Before we talk about creating engaging courses, I want to start by defining what that means to me. And it is best when working with a client to understand exactly what they mean as well. Often what I mean by “engaging” and what they mean are two different things!
Engaging design is a design that makes people think about what they are reading, seeing, or hearing. It is sort of like the statement, “Engage your brain before putting your mouth in gear,” except we want to engage learners’ brains while they are in a safe environment before putting them in the workplace where they have no safety nets.
This leads me to the first tip: Engage learners in activities that allow them to practice what they need to DO differently on the job. Engaging design is NOT bling, bells, and whistles unless that helps to accomplish the goal of letting them do what they need to do in real life. And even then, I would contend that bling, bells, and whistles are more likely to become distractions than add value, but I digress.
Many times our clients (or their bosses) want their employees to “know” something—and it usually isn’t a little something; it’s a laundry list of somethings. It takes work and often multiple conversations to get them to talk through what they really want. What are the desired outcomes, and what do they want people to do differently after the training?
Often, clients identify through this process that they want some people in one role to do one thing, but they need people in another role to do a different thing. Or sometimes, we identify through observing the employees that top performers are doing several things that others are not doing at all. In both cases, we try to design a curriculum that is relevant to the specific role or group of learners and that focuses on the actions or behaviors that produce the greatest value—outcomes of value.
So that’s the second tip: Focus content on the outcomes of value rather than create a scrapyard of information. And here’s a scandalous addition: You might even want to let learners discover tidbits of information as they look for help in completing the tasks or activities. That might even mean you don’t need to list learning objectives in the course! (Oh my!)
This leads me to a discussion of information and job aids to help the learners as performers. There was a great article in Learning Solutions magazine that references a Do-Know-Access model. It is very similar to the models we use in resolving our clients’ performance challenges. The authors use the Access leg of their triangle to explain what we typically call performance support.
We are talking about the same thing, though (and my third and final tip): Provide learners with access to the same tools in the same way that they, as performers, will retrieve and use them on the job. That may or may not mean you will need to build new tools. Often it means simply co-locating the tools, such as on a single website, or creating a new website that links to existing tools. Learners can then practice finding and using the tools during the training and will be much more comfortable finding what they need when they need it when they are back on the job.
So those are my three tips to keep learners thinking, discovering, finding, using, and doing things better. That’s what I call engaging!
So much travel growing up created a bit of wanderlust in me, which is not a bad thing for a consultant to have. Going new places and meeting new people is so exciting and rewarding and offers new perspectives and experiences each and every time. I really enjoy talking with people in all sorts of roles, getting a behind-the-scenes view of how varied industries operate. It is pretty handy to have had 16 years of experience meeting new people and establishing new relationships every couple of years.
Before finding my ‘home’ with GP Strategies, I enjoyed a career in technical writing, still helping employees to be successful by creating user guides and similar documentation. That, too, required interacting with different people to understand processes and technologies so that I could effectively document them. While with Computer Sciences Corporation, I was also introduced to Total Quality Management (TQM) and found even greater interest in process improvement. That began to open my eyes to a different spin on performance improvement and became a wonderful reason to transition to a small company called RWD Technologies (later acquired by GP Strategies).
One of the first things that attracted me to RWD was the motto: “Our focus is on the end users.” My early assignments helped to create a real passion for frontline employees and the work that they do. During those early days, I delivered some instructor-led training and was thrilled when I could see light bulbs going on around the classroom.
Today, I find great satisfaction in working with people to uncover business challenges—analyzing the people, processes, systems, and technologies—and, together, finding ways to resolve those challenges. I’m still learning and growing by meeting new people all the time, and I am still thrilled when I can help light bulbs to brighten and problems to be solved.
Latest posts by Sydney Smith (see all)
- The Intangibles of Performance Excellence - July 19, 2018
- Video: Key Pointers on Creating Engaging Curriculum Design - April 10, 2014