Career Development Training – Too Little or Too Much?

Today while checking Google Reader I saw two articles about career development training that caught my eye.

The first article reports the results of a survey sponsored by SkillSoft that finds American companies need to offer more career development training in order to boost job satisfaction. As the article states:

“… a SkillSoft-commissioned survey indicated that eight out of ten employees would have higher job satisfaction levels if they received more on-the-job training.”

Career development is important in organizations not just because it helps with job satisfaction, but also because it enables people to do their job and be more productive. I think most training professionals understand that. The key is that the training has to be relevant to the job and to the employee. I think this particular survey needs to be taken with a large grain of salt considering SkillSoft sponsored it. The article does state SkillSoft is a provider of online courses, but reads like a SkillSoft press release.

Regardless of the source or credibility of the survey, providing career development opportunities for employees is important and should be taken seriously.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is this article about excessive on the job training in Korea. The article tells the story of workers who arrive at work early to complete mandatory online training so they don’t fall behind in meeting training requirements, up to 12 courses a month in one case. The amount of required training has become stress point for employees. I hope someone is looking at the return on investment for such stringent training requirements.

Ideally companies provide something in the middle – the right amount of training for a given job. The training offered to employees should be based on organizational and individual goals. Some level of mandatory training is often required, like sexual harassment or ethics training, but some real employee development courses are needed, especially in technical fields. If the only training offered is the “because our corporate lawyer told us we had to” type of training, then you can probably do more for your employees.

So, take a look at what you offer to employees, or if you’re an employee, look at what’s offered to you. Does it meet organizational goals? Does it meet personal goals? Does it help you keep up with new technologies? Does it help you be more productive? Hopefully the answer to all these questions is “Yes”.

Rebuttal: Why Bother with Instructional Design?

In my last post I stated instructional design didn’t matter for instructor-led training because trainers do what they want and learners don’t know what they’ve missed if instructors omit content. In case it wasn’t obvious, that post was intended to provoke thought and not be taken literally. Good instructional design is essential to any successful training program, online or in-person.

Part of what I’ve recognized over the years is that instructional designers have to give up any attachments they have to a course. Once you hand it off to the next person, be it an instructor in a classroom or a learner online, you have no control over how much of your work will be used, much less appreciated. The key is planning on people not following your design. I think the best instructional design is completely transparent to the learners. I’ve never heard a learner say “Wow, the instructional design in that class was great!” I have heard them say “that was the best training I’ve had”. Again, good instructional design is transparent to learners.

Instructional Design turns various pieces of knowledge and information into something meaningful. It accounts for learner differences and technology differences. It’s how learners get from nothing to being able to do their job. The amount of design necessary depends entirely on the content and delivery method, but someone needs to think about the hows and whys of the learning or training process.

In a classroom, training is probably a pretty linear process. It’s also (hopefully) a dynamic process where the instructor challenges students and has high expectations. In an online course it may be a collection of short tutorials that include a mix of media and activities that can be done in short bursts as needed or taken as a comprehensive course over several sessions. The instructional designer decides what to include and what to leave out, and how learners progress through the content for optimal benefit. Even if you’re designing a short software tutorial on a single task, there is still some level of instructional design required.

I feel instructional design is under valued in today’s world of rapid eLearning. I also think good instructional designers are needed to tie all the new technologies together and make them meaningful to learners. Instructional design, when done right, is the most important part of the training process.

Why Bother with Instructional Design?

This week I had a revelation: My instructional design doesn’t matter. Then I read the Big Question over at the Learning Circuits blog:

For a given project, how do you determine if, when and how much an instructional designer and instructional design is needed?

I read several of the responses and the blog post by Cammy Bean that inspired the question. I think I like Jay Cross’s response the best, probably because it’s short and obvious. (People often don’t see the obvious). My short answer is enough to meet the objectives of the course. For eLearning I think careful planning is required, especially for self-paced courses. For classroom training, and maybe even live online training, almost no ID is needed. Huh? An instructional designer saying you don’t need instructional design? Yep, you need course developers not instructional designers.

In the past year I’ve spent a lot of time working on instructor-led training for both in-person classes and live online classes. What I’ve found is that no matter how much work I do two things are true:

  • The instructor will always do things their way.
  • Students don’t care about instructional design.

The instructor will always do things their way. The trainers I work with are outstanding, both as trainers and as technical experts. They know the product and have years of experience training. They will always, for any given class, adjust the course as necessary for the students that show up that day. The activities I labored over may not be done in a class and the instructor may improvise and create activities on the fly. In other words, no matter how much I plan and design there is no guarantee it will be used in class.

Will this impact learning? Probably, but the students don’t seem to notice because they don’t know what they are missing. Sure, there are pages and slides that were skipped or taught in a different sequence, but they came to class knowing nothing and left with their heads full of stuff. Let’s not debate if it was the right stuff; stuff is stuff.

Students don’t care about instructional design. All they care about is having a good instructor and doing some exercises that are relevant to their world of work. They also like not being at their real job for a few days, and the free coffee and pastries go a long way toward high scores on the course evaluation form (smile sheet). They want the course materials to be accurate so when they do an exercise it works. They also want a copy of the slides, except the slides that say “Objectives” or “Course Goals”. Never mind that the book has all the information they need to accomplish the objectives (and then some), they want the slides.

So a course developer is all you need. Someone to make slides with pretty graphics, write exercises (based on what the instructors want), and produce student handouts. Some planning is needed, but only so at a high level things look like they are in order. For example, if you’re training on how to bake a cake you want to make sure the oven is on before you put the cake in to bake. Simple, obvious stuff. The course developer should test the exercises to make sure they work, even if the instructor skips the previous exercise.

Instructional design for instructor led training is over rated. Good instructors are all you really need. eLearning, now that’s a totally different animal. As instructional designer you get to exercise your complete control and make sure learners get the what they need in the way you’ve determined is best. What about learner control ? That just means making sure they can read the text instead of listening to the narration.

Just remember, people might actually learn in spite of instruction.