Alternative Training Design

Instructional designers and training professionals use some common models and philosophies to design learning experiences for adults. ADDIE is the one that corporate professionals know; Bloom’s Taxonomy is found more often in classic educational institutions.

There are significant problems with both approaches. They completely ignore the artistic considerations that make any training program worth sitting through and the design process fun. The thinking behind both is linear instead of holistic. The structure of both emphasizes categorization and definition, which creates a great deal of stress in those whose Myers-Briggs type falls clearly on the feeling, intuitive and perception poles instead of the thinking, sensing, judging poles.

As one of those types (ENFP), I find working with either ADDIE or Bloom to be a time-consuming, tedious drag. Yes, I think needs analysis is important (the first ADDIE step), but the truth is many people don’t know what they need and neither does anyone else in the organization. Training objectives (Bloom’s big contribution and a part of phase two in ADDIE) are important, and yes, I care about what people will learn by the end of a class, but I also care how people feel at the end of a class and whether or not they had a good time.

In a world where people now have access to very compelling entertainment on the iPhones they peek at during training sessions, you had better make sure that you give them a good time.

I also want to raise consciousness whenever I do a leadership program, a goal that eludes the behavioral emphasis of the classic approaches. I want people to meet the behavioral objectives and I want to give them plenty to think about after the class is over.

The process I use is non-linear and hard to structure in a series of steps. Sometimes it begins with a needs analysis, but one that is far more open-ended than the one you use in ADDIE. ADDIE assumes that people know or can divine the “desired behavioral outcome,” but any study of successful leaders will tell you that there are many possible “behavioral outcomes” that can be effective, depending on the circumstances. In fact, I want there to be many possible behavioral outcomes because the act of leadership is never effective unless it is genuine, and you can’t engage in genuine behavior unless you personalize it.

Once I figure out what the people in an organization really need, I immerse myself in the topic from as many angles as possible. Using the subject of leadership as an example, I might re-read the obvious choices like The Leadership Challenge, Principle-Centered Leadership and Now Discover Your Strengths and the like, but I’d also find different biographies of famous leaders throughout history and assimilate those lessons into my thinking. I’d also check business and political sites for current material on successful and unsuccessful manifestations of leadership. The point of doing this is that if I’m going to be in a room with twelve intelligent adults for several hours, I better know my stuff and that knowledge has to go deeper than the model I’m presenting . . . because no one’s reality ever fits perfectly into any model. This immersion is equally important in the design stage, for it adds a richness and depth that I’d miss through a linear approach.

Once I’m ready to design, my approach is more like music composition than classic instructional design. I identify the key themes and make sure those themes are echoed throughout the program. I pay due attention to the techniques of build-up, modulating highs and lows and resolution of tension: the core elements that make music interesting and memorable. All of this happens while I’m simultaneously working with slides, exercises, multiple forms of media and engaging in a back-and-forth internal dialogue with the objectives I’m trying to achieve. While I never stray far from the objectives, I’m always open to the possibility that the objectives can be improved as I go and find more powerful ways to express the intent of the program.

The end result I’m trying to achieve is shared engagement in the world of leadership. It’s important for me to be passionate about helping leaders and it’s important that the participants feel that passion. My “process” may not be the standard approach to training design, but it has worked for me and for the participants in the programs I have designed . . . many of whom still call me years later to bounce around ideas and discuss leadership challenges.

Kouzes and Posner said, “No one can teach you how to lead. You have to write your own book on leadership.” I feel the same way about training design. Don’t limit yourself to what the experts define as proper design procedure. You have a heart, a mind and imagination that you can put to good use for the people you serve.

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