Monday, March 21, 2011

A Poem for Evidenced-Based Training

I am thoroughly enjoying Ruth Clark’s Evidence Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals. Not only does it provide practical advice for instructional design that is actually based on research, but Clark’s writing is quick and easy to read and her recommendations clear and memorable.

This is partly because Clark adeptly practices what she preaches. The book itself is a superior “learning environment,” using key techniques recommended by the research: informational graphics, stories and examples, “organizing” questions to spark engagement.

One of my favorite insights comes early in the book: the knowledge that short-term memory consists of both visual and audio centers leads to the concept of “dual channels” for learning delivery:

When you read a concrete word such as flower, you are more likely to process it in two ways, as phonetic data and also as the image that your mind forms when reading the word. In contrast, a word such as moral is not as easy to visualize, and in many cases you encode it only in a phonetic format. Concrete words that can be encoded in two ways have a greater probability of being stored in memory. (page 31, paperback edition).

Every poet and copywriter knows that concrete words are stronger and “stickier” than abstract words, but now at last we have the brain science to explain why!

So here’s a little poem I wrote in praise of Clark’s insight. It might help you remember the idea of dual channels:

Abstract’s Less Durable than Concrete
Elephants are bigger than enormous,
A pear more memorable than appear.
Names of things are sounds and pictures:
Pointed’s less pointed than a spear.

A comforter is warmer than comfort,
Compared to being, a bee has more sting;
Any one star is clearer than brightness:
Ideas vanish faster than things.

Even pain is less painful than a punch in the nose,
And the rarest beauty holds no candle to a rose.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

To Script or Not to Script: Should You Write Instructor Guides?

When you create instructor-led training (ILT), what kind of script or notes or other information do you provide for the instructor?

In the dim, dim past
Many, many years ago, when I first developed training for technology products, the practice at the company where I worked was to create a "student guide" and an "instructor guide."
  • The student guide contained the course content (concepts, procedures, exercises) and was meant to be used in class and taken home as a reference.
  • The instructor guide included all of the above, plus an almost verbatim  script for teaching the class.
In recent times
Over the past couple of decades, I’ve not come across any cases where instructional designers created full-blown instructor guides with scripts. I assumed this was because these scripts take a LOT of time and were always of dubious value. When I audited my classes back in the old, old days, the instructors generally ignored the script and taught the way they wanted to teach.

Also, since PowerPoint became the master tool for ILT delivery, the prevalent practice I’ve seen is for the designer to produce a PowerPoint, with any notes or facilitator cues in the Speaker Notes.

Much to my surprise
So I was caught off-guard recently when a new client told me they really, really believed they needed an instructor guide with a step by step script for delivering the course. I told them I would research the problem. The results were not what I expected.

I posted the question to mailing list of the Society for Technical Communication Instructional Design SIG, and to the Instructional Design and E-Learning Professionals group on LinkedIn.

Much to my surprise, roughly half of the 15 respondents are producing some form of facilitator or instructor guide--though only a couple mentioned doing verbatim scripts. Still, a robust instructor guide, as opposed to simple notes and cues in PowerPoint, appears to be much more prevalent than I had imagined.

Some Findings
  • Instructor aids, when not a full script, included tips and tricks, answers to common questions, preparation and materials needed (and, of course, answers to assessment questions)
  • Detailed instructor guides are more prevalent in larger organizations and in situations with many different instructors, with lots of variance in their subject knowledge and facilitation skills.
  • They are also common and useful for train-the-trainer programs
  • Instructor guides are helpful in classes where the instructor leaves the PowerPoint to show software steps. Notes in the PowerPoint are less handy in these situations.

A useful design
Having reviewed this information, I was able recommend a 3-column format for an abbreviated instructor guide that I think will answer the client’s needs.
  • Column 1, Media, has a screen images of the PowerPoint, or of the software application being demonstrated.
  • Column 2, Speaking Points, contains talking points for the slides, or step-by-step instructions for the software demonstration. Not a verbatim script, but a summary of what to say and do.
  • Column 3, Notes, has additional recommendations and tips, including how to handle conditional situations and answers to questions that might come up.
My thanks to everyone who took the time to share their comments on the STC list-serv and Linked in. In particular, I am indebted to Kim Kahat of Better Business Writing, Inc, for sharing her facilitator guide design, which I adapted for my client.