How to Train Effectively? Set and communicate learning objectives

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Fishermen throwing a net

This is the second post in our mini-series on How to Train Effectively.  We began the series by discussing about the importance of priming your audience before a training—read about it here.

Imagine a foreign aid expert giving an incredibly designed, didactic training about new technology to a group of community leaders in the Dominican Republic. At the end of the training, the expert is sure that everyone will implement the new technology. But when he checks back in a few months, no one has.

Why? The training was about a new low-cost irrigation system for farms.  The community is largely comprised of fishermen. The few farmers who did attend the training were not given any practical follow-up steps on how to install the irrigation system afterwards.

Was the training effective?  Of course not! The expert was preaching a fascinating new product to the wrong audience. The few farmers who did attend had no idea how to start using the new technology, and no one in the fishing community knew how to help.

The foreign aid expert made common training mistakes.  He did not know his audience or their needs and wants before offering his training.  Additionally, he did not provide clear learning objectives before, during, and after the training.  The foreign aid expert would benefit from developing clear learning objectives for his future trainings, based on what his audience needs.

Learning objectives provide you with a clear guide to follow in the preparation, execution, and follow-up of the training. They also provide your audience with clear training expectations as well as what you expect they will learn and apply post-training.

So, how do you create learning objectives?

Know what your audience needs and wants

How often do we design a training without truly understanding our audience’s needs, wants, desires, and prior educational experiences? This is an essential pre-training step that should direct you as you develop your training and learning objectives.  At MoveUp, we use pre-training surveys, community and market research, and other resources to understand our audience and what they want to learn.  Then, we build our trainings and set clear objectives for them.

Write SMART Learning Objectives

Once you have identified your potential audience correctly, you are ready to write your outcomes.  To ensure learning objectives are appropriate for your audience, we recommend developing a maximum of 3 SMART learning objectives.  Less is more, especially if a training is just a few hours long. The SMART method (read more on Mind Tools) says that each objective should be:

  • Specific: The outcome should be simple and significant.Chess piece with crown
  • Measurable: There must be a way to measure if the participants have achieved the learning outcome. It may be asking a question, sending out a post-training quiz, or following up in a month.
  • Achievable: Make the objectives actually achievable for participants in the timeframe of the training. What is achievable for you as a subject expert may be different from that of your audience.
  • Relevant: The objective should be focused on your audience’s problems and motivations.
  • Time-Bound: Make sure to include a due date for accountability. 

Don’t fall into the expert trap

If you’ve taught a subject a number of times, it’s easy to feel like an expert and skip or rush through pre-training preparation. But don’t lose sight of the purpose of teaching:

We train so participants can learn.  Training is about participants learning, not about us teaching.

Take your time and think about what your audience needs to learn. Build your training about what they need to hear, and not around what you want to teach.

Stay on message

Before starting to plan a training, think about how it will fit into the mission, vision, and strategic plan of your organization. Perhaps the school leaders you work with desperately need training on teaching students with autism.  While incredibly important, if your organization’s mission is to help school leaders develop resiliency, this topic does not directly relate to your mission.

When organizations try to meet the needs and desires of their beneficiaries instead of staying true to who they are, this leads to mission drift, a common issue in the social sector.

Make sure participants know the training objectives!

Training objectives are just as important for participants as they are for educators. Learning objectives provide clear expectations and help participants set their own educational goals.

At MoveUp, we have found that providing training participants with learning objectives help them feel more supported as they learn. They leave with an achievable goal, like “finish the follow-up course within two weeks and prepare a list of all expenses before August 31.” They also know that in the first week of September we’ll be following up with them (via chat or a personal visit) to see how they’re doing.

Clear learning objectives are key for you as a trainer as well as for your participants.  With specific objectives, your training will be more effective and participants will be engaged and focused on implementing what they’ve learned.  Next week we’ll talk more about engaging your users by improving retention.

If you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

Let’s continue the conversation about training effectiveness. Follow us on LinkedIn and reach out anytime to get in touch.

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