Developing Your Own Training

With organizations looking to save money wherever possible, yet still maintain a highly-skilled and up-to-date staff, many are looking at developing some training internally rather than using third parties. In 25 years of training, I have seen the good, the bad and the many degrees in-between when it comes to training developed by those who don’t do it for a living.

While some types of training should be left to professionals, there are certainly opportunities for some courses in your catalog to be developed in-house.

Included here are a few tips and tricks for putting together your first training courses. While it won’t make an instructional designer out of you overnight, these suggestions should at least show you what to look out for and what you might need to learn.

If a full-blown needs assessment has not been done, you must at least determine what your audience knows and can do already before starting a training development project. Simple surveys and observation of job tasks can accomplish this. Then determine what portions of your proposed training program will be the most important to these students.

Take your course objectives and work them into a survey, using questions such as: Do you perform this task often? Would you consider your level to be beginner, intermediate or expert when it comes to performing this task? Which of these tasks do you struggle with or need help performing?

Even if your organization has pegged you as the subject matter expert (SME), that doesn’t mean you have to develop the training in a vacuum. Talk to people who may have similar knowledge as yours, as you may have missed something. Get the opinions and ideas of others in the organization that may have a different point of view. What is important to them in terms of what the students will get out of the training?

Too many courses simply consist of the trainer sharing his years of accumulated knowledge with students. While information is a necessary component for on-the-job performance, by itself it is not training. Training is the transfer of knowledge and skills for the purpose of mastering on-the-job objectives. The training content needs to be relevant to job tasks, and must be able to be absorbed by the students through review and practice.

In fact, training works best when the trainer is more of a coach and facilitator than just a storehouse of information. Develop worksheets and exercises that help students discover some of the knowledge and skills on their own, as many studies show students learn more that way.

Keep your training modules small and manageable. Insert frequent reviews where you ask leading questions, provide a short quiz, perform practice activities and/or get student feedback.

I have heard some trainers say: “If the subject matter is engaging, the presentation doesn’t matter.” That’s not entirely true. Even the most engaging, relevant content can put students to sleep if it’s presented on a series of static text slides. And using “sliding text effects” is only a minimal step up. The more you can show and demonstrate with pictures, the better.

When using graphics, make sure they are clear and not too “busy.” When developing a PowerPoint presentation, for example, always review the slides in the room where the training will take place. Stand at the back of the classroom or conference room and project the slides. If you can’t make out the callouts or necessary details in a graphic, your students can’t either. Consider putting busier graphics in print form for student handouts, and split up the PowerPoint graphic over two or more slides.

Regarding graphics, you may or may not have illustration expertise in-house. If not, scanned graphics are often unclear when put into presentation format. If the necessary graphic can be represented in a photo, it should be.

You will need to know a little about basic lighting (the flash on the camera is not always the best option), but there is a wealth of information online when it comes to this subject. Learning some rudimentary skills in a program such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro is also a good idea, so you can crop, edit and enhance the photos you choose for presentation.

Training does not end with the last screen of content. At a minimum, develop a quiz that assesses how well the students retained what you taught them. Where appropriate, having the students demonstrate mastery of performance or hands-on tasks is even better.

Stephen Howe is employed as a field trainer by United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, with approximately 600 locations in North America and an a rental fleet worth more than $3.5 billion. He is a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council - a global non-profit organization dedicated to sharing best practices and recognizing outstanding training in the automotive and heavy vehicle industries.