Following my earlier post: ABC: 10 reasons not to create a course – and 10 other options, I have had a huge amount of interest in finding out more about the different ABC (Anything But Courses) options I mentioned. So in this post I am going to talk about a simple – and low-cost – training model that I recommend whenever there is a requirement for workers to demonstrate they have “learned” (that is read and understood) some content, and can apply it in the workplace.
This approach comprises THREE elements: (1) relevant assessment; (2) flexible content; and (3) timely support. Although the three elements are inter-related, they are independently accessible – and the emphasis is placed not on the content but on the assessment. Here’s some more detail about the three elements.
1 – Relevant Assessment
This is the key, and in fact the only required, element in the model, and is the means by which an individual demonstrates they can apply what they have learned. For this to happen, the assessment needs to be a valid test of application – not just a superficial understanding of terminology and concepts. Jane Bozarth makes this point clearly, in Design Assessment First , when she says an effective assessment is not ..
“… 25 badly written multiple-choice questions asking about things like fine points of a policy or seemingly random definitions or rarely occurring product failures”
A good example of a “relevant and valid” assessment is the Phishme simulation test which sends emails to users to find out whether they can identify a security risk, and offers individuals training immediately they “fall for the bait in the exercise”. But other relevant assessments might involve a role-playing/scenario activity – based around a case study similar to one likely to be encountered by the individual in their job. So it is worth spending time with the managers concerned in order to devise an appropriate, valid and relevant assessment that will demonstrate that individuals are really able to apply what they have read. Of course, this will need to be automated, but it is important to ensure that in doing so, it is not “dumbed down” and loses its effectiveness.
In addition, the individual needs to be able to take the assessment first (if they so wish), and if they pass it – they should not be required to work through any content. If they fail the assessment, however, they should then be referred to the relevant parts of the content before they re-take the assesssment.
2 – Flexible Content
Some individuals will undoubtedly want to start with the Content and work through it thoroughly, whilst others will only want to skim it, to refresh themselves, before they take the Assessment. So this is why the content needs to be in as flexible a format as possible – not a linear sequence of screens that they must work through.
If the content already exists, e.g. in the form of a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, then there is no need to spend time and money converting it into an online course – and in doing so adding gratuitous graphics or trivial interactions. Firstly, it annoys and irritates today’s busy Knowledge Workers (who will try and avoid the experience if they can), and secondly, it rarely adds any value to the content. The most that is needed is some help with post-production, e.g. adding a summary page to a Word document that highlights the key points, or helping to produce a narration for a presentation so that it makes more sense, or setting up and recording a webinar to capture the content, and enabling download of slides, if desired.
If the content doesn’t already exist, then it should be presented in the simplest – and most appropriate – way possible – suitable for the target audience. It might be a video or set of hyperlinked web pages. But the emphasis should still be on good information design rather than instructional design. Having said that, the content doesn’t have to be all online, it could be in the form of a face-to-face workshop – although, of course, this will limit its flexibility.
3 – Timely support
The third element is to provide Support for those who might have difficulty understanding any aspect of the content or the assessment, or who have failed the assessment and cannot make out why. Setting up a useful and support mechanism will be important. It might be the ability to email an expert or access a peer-supported forum or community. In the latter case there will also be a need to review questions asked, and collate FAQ. It may even involve adjusting the original content, if it becomes clear that some aspect is not that clear – which is another reason why the content needs to be as flexible and simple as possible – and not hardwired into a course which is impossible to modify and update.
There are a number of advantages of this basic training model:
- It can be used as a way of identifying those who need training – rather than requiring everyone to spend unnecessary time working through content they already know.
- It provides managers with relevant “real-world” assessment of application of knowledge.
- It doesn’t require an LMS – since accessing the content is optional, and the test will need to be set up using other more appropriate tools.
- It is a less costly approach – which means that money can be used for other more expensive options – where they are really needed and where they will have the most impact.
- It offers more autonomy and choice for today’s knowledge workers, and can be more easily be fitted into their workflow.
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