One of the projects I’m working on has me pouring through my books on instructional design techniques. So much of the instructional design how-to is about process but I want to infuse context and thinking patterns into that. I don’t want to instruct people to ask specific questions so much as I want them free to imagine themselves knowing nothing and asking questions out of that lack of understanding.
Part of being a good instructional designer is being okay with not knowing everything about a particular subject. You can’t write a good program if you think you know what people need to learn. You need to be able to imagine yourself as the learner and carefully determine what a learner needs to know to be successful.
A friend shared an interesting tool with me – essentially a four-cornered matrix denoting tasks that are easy or difficult to learn, and how often they are done:
In theory, you wouldn’t need to concentrate your effort on tasks that are easy to learn or seldom required – training should be focused on the more difficult tasks that are done often. The easy tasks can be mentioned, of course, as it just makes sense to tell people something that only needs to be told. But the time, effort, and resources should be concentrated on tasks that require more effort and are done frequently in the role.
Here’s a practical example: let’s say you’re designing training for a landscaper and after some investigation, you’ve determined a variety of things a landscaper would need to know before getting to a client’s home. You have some easy and often skills like greeting customers and filling out waivers. You have some easy and seldom skills like phone numbers for large mechanical repairs. You have some difficult and often tasks like lawnmower maintenance and retaining walls. And, lastly, you have some difficult and seldom tasks like pruning apple trees. I am, of course, making this up.
In my example, the easy tasks are worth mentioning and perhaps giving some sort of job aid or performance support for, but you wouldn’t spend the bulk of your time there. As well, the difficult and seldom tasks may be something you offer as an advanced application. Where I would spend the bulk of my time training is on the difficult tasks done often – in this example lawnmower maintenance and retaining walls.
Now for the tie in. If you hadn’t asked, and only assumed what a landscaper required because you did it as a teenager or your brother is a landscaper, you might have spent the bulk of your time on pruning apple trees or greeting customers, making the training – for a new employee hitting the ground – largely irrelevant.
This isn’t to say the other things don’t need to be trained. They do. Maybe differently, maybe at another time, or maybe in smaller ratios.