No two trainers are exactly the same. By nature of the tools they use, the content they teach, the circumstances they navigate to meet learner needs and, of course, their own personality, each training experience is unique. Yet if you ask the most seasoned experts in the field what has sustained their success and longevity, you’re likely to hear a few of the same training best practices again and again.
Certain approaches just work, no matter where they’re used. Incorporate these six expert-approved techniques into your training framework and you’ll see improvement by virtually every metric, from engagement to retention to efficiency.
1. Find your objective (and stick to it)
Training is a means to an end, not an end in itself — and that end should be made clear to everybody. When learners are subjected to aimless, meandering training without any clear learning objectives, they will be less engaged and less likely to retain what they learn.
According to eLearning Industry founder Christopher Pappas, objectives are integral to any online training program. They “give purpose” to courses, he says, and “allow employees to focus their efforts and absorb the key takeaways.”
Zeroing in on core objectives also makes your work in design and planning easier. Before you develop a course or schedule a group session, ask yourself one question: What am I trying to accomplish? Once you have your answer, base every decision on achieving your goal.
Pappas, who has worked as an instructional designer and consultant for various organizations, recommends trainers not only define the objectives but also pair those objectives to “desired outcomes and benefits.” Part of training best practices, Pappas points out, is clarifying the value of training for both learners and instructors.
Related reading: 5 Tips to Get Your SME to Think Like an Instructional Designer
2. Consider the context
Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Courses get assigned under a specific set of conditions to achieve a desired learning outcome as part of an overarching training plan.
These factors comprise the learning context, or the situation in which your target audience learns. You’ll get the best results when you fit your training approach within the unique context of your initiative.
One way trainers can integrate context into training, says Keith Gibson, Vice President of Sales and Client Development at Allen Communication Learning Services, is to focus more on continuous, on-the-job learning rather than fixed sessions.
This approach, Gibson points out, “brings context to the forefront.” He notes that context is especially important in leadership training as “one leadership style is not the most effective in any given situation.”
Context matters not only in the way you administer training (more on that in #3), but also in the way employees process what they learn.
Situating your lessons in context can help demonstrate the value of learning in a tangible way.
3. Tailor your training
One of the most important aspects of context is your audience. Whether you’re responsible for training an entire organization or just a small department, you’ve probably seen how learning styles and needs can vary.
For Erika Smith, an instructional designer at Steelcase, training best practices include taking into consideration these six main factors:
- Skill level
- Current delivery method for learning
Think about your own staff for a second. Your Baby Boomers may not be as technologically literate as your Millennials. (Though don’t take that for granted. You have to focus on who your learners actually are.)
Or consider how many of your learners will receive in-person training, as opposed to live online sessions, or asynchronous online courses. In some cases, you may choose to leverage blended learning in which case a combination of the aforementioned options would be used to train.
For the best possible results, you need to make training as relevant, practical and meaningful as possible for each learner.
Related reading: The On-Demand Training Trends Your Customers Expect You To Keep Up With
When it comes to employee training, take the time to learn your employees’ individual needs. Smith recommends speaking with staff members in person and carefully observing their behavior — the seasoned “expert” employees and the tentative newer members of staff — to identify their level of knowledge and approach to learning.
“As you observe and interview,” Smith advises, “document what the expert is doing to see best practices, as well as what the newer employees are doing to see pain points and areas where people struggle.”
4. Don’t overdo it
The amount of information your learners can process and retain over any given time period is limited. This is why the most experienced trainers strategically fill their courses and sessions with material that offers the greatest impact for their learners, their training program and their organization.
J. Crew Training Manager Derick Dickens argues that the number one mistake trainers make is “talking too much and confusing trainees with too much information.” This is true for in-person training but is especially relevant for online environments. When online training modules are packed with large paragraphs of text, or lengthy videos, it can create friction in the learner’s engagement with the content.
By focusing on three to five clear objectives and practicing arduously to make sure they stay on topic, Dickens says trainers can create experiences that are far more resonant. He also emphasizes the value of pre-work which allows in-person training to focus on practicing the application of concepts rather learning than the concepts themselves. Online training modules are an effective way to accomplish the pre-work phase. Alternatively, for fully online training journeys, learning paths can be crafted to provide necessary prerequisite information to learners and offer a guide for the order in which the content should be consumed.
5. Gamify and incentivize
A system to motivate learners can be invaluable in getting them more fully invested in their training, particularly for dense material that requires high engagement.
One approach is to offer incentives that reward strong training performance or milestones. Rewards can range from bonuses and extra paid time off to discounts, badges and certifications.
In a 2013 article for HR Magazine, Hudson Trail Outfitters General Manager Sandy Cohan revealed that, when it comes to training, his staff “works twice as hard and gets twice as jazzed when they earn a free bonus check.” Research your staff’s interests and see what incentives they find compelling.
Gamification — the addition of game mechanics such as levels, points and objectives to a non-game activity — is another great way to tap into employees’ mental rewards systems.
Related reading: Want Better Outcomes From Self-Paced Elearning? Engage The Learners
In his bestseller, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, gamification expert and instructional designer Karl Kapp argues that traditional elearning bores people who grew up playing video games.
In a changing work environment, Kapp observes that gamification increases “engagement, relevance and immersion,” while also providing an interactive experience that helps with the application of material.
6. Assess the effectiveness of these training best practices
The best teachers never stop learning. Seasoned trainers recognize the necessity of feedback for improving their processes and increasing their efficacy.
Erika Smith writes: “Feedback is what lets you know if your training was successful. Without it, you won’t know if your training was revolutionary, a complete waste of time, or somewhere in between.”
There are many ways to get feedback. After learners complete a training course or session, you can ask them to fill out a questionnaire about their experience; you could hold a mini-focus group to break down what went well and what could be improved, or you can just reach out to them directly.
You can also build feedback opportunities right into the course with the authoring tool.
These techniques are easier to learn than to master. But the sooner you incorporate them into your training efforts, the sooner you’ll create a learning culture that rates against the best in your industry.