A Bi-Monthly Newsletter
Volume 6, Issue 3, May 2003
Writing Specific Documents
Don’t Boil the Ocean
By Rockie Lyons Beaman
One of our customers recently told me that technical training is a key component to her company’s success, yet is costly to develop. Why is this? One reason is that we often try to accomplish too much before identifying the problem we’re trying to solve. For most companies, technical training can be an expensive endeavor with little return on investment without good instructional design. To use a common phrase these days, I think we often try to “boil the ocean.” In addressing the problem, this article provides some basics for building effective technical training.
Although this may sound rather odd, you need to first identify what your students should demonstrate at the end of the training event before you begin developing training. This means defining clear learning objectives that become the backbone of any training plan. Unfortunately, what often happens is that technical training tries to cover too much in very compressed time frames. This often causes students to walk away at the end of a training day feeling like they’ve been drinking out of a fire hose all day. They’re overwhelmed. They have too much information without the ability to make it meaningful to their jobs. To address this problem, here are some questions you should ask during the design phase of your training program:
1. What task must a student successfully demonstrate before leaving the class?
2. What is the theory or conceptual coverage that reinforces that task?
Establishing clear learning objectives forces you to stay focused and organized on specific key areas that are performance-based. It is a rare training event from which a student walks away with the knowledge about everything that was covered in class. In addition, overwhelming students with technical information without a test of the student’s performance rarely satisfies a student or the trainer. An effective training class should provide students with the ability to display competency in key areas that can be easily measured.
One helpful tip for writing an effective learning objective is that it should be task-based and measurable. For example, the following learning objective demonstrates a task that must be performed and it can be measured.
After completing this course, you will be able to create a simple 2D drawing from an Autodesk Inventor part.
This kind of learning objective also becomes an assessment tool that can be tested at the completion of the training event. You can test whether or not your student can successfully create a 2D drawing from an Autodesk Inventor part. If your student cannot display the ability to perform this objective, perhaps your training content needs to be revised.
Provide Simplicity and Clarity
It is an unusual person who will admit that he doesn’t know something while sitting among peers when a teacher asks, “Do you understand?” Often a person will save face by nodding or responding positively, yet in fact, this person may not have understood. One way to ward off this kind of problem is to provide organization that displays simplicity and clarity. Good training clusters information in digestible chunks that students can absorb. Going back to the fire hose analogy, you need to consider that people process information in various stages, making connections to their workplace often while a trainer moves to another topic. Since everyone comes to a training class with various ranges of technical competency, it is easy for students to become overwhelmed while content is being presented to them. So your student may need a framework to return to in order to make the necessary connections. Our human nature also likes to make connections to patterns or schema, so good training should take advantage of that. In your training design, provide organization that encourages connections to previous training or use workplace examples so students can create connections to their workplace. Here are a couple of suggestions:
At the end of the day, it all boils down to…are you more productive? If you have a roadmap of clear objectives, you should be able to determine if you arrived at your destination on time, and that you are more productive…without trying to boil the ocean.
Rockie Lyons Beaman is a project manager at Autodesk, Inc. at Tualatin, Oregon, who manages the training development for manufacturing software products. In former lives, Rockie has worked as a technical trainer, instructional designer and training manager for software companies. In addition to seven years of teaching experience, Rockie holds a Masters Degree in Business and Technical Writing from Iowa State University and in her spare time is working on a dissertation for a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Professional Communication. Rockie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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