Learning programs can be measured—but only if they are designed to be measured.
It’s good design that enables measurement.
So the necessary question becomes: What makes for good design?
Creating crystal clear learning objectives is a first step in designing a learning program. Think back to classes you have taken in your career. How many trainings have you attended with loosey-goosey, amorphous goals such as “learn Excel,” “understand the policy,” or “know how to give feedback”?
None of those three examples provide anything to measure. They are too broad and each may be defined differently by anyone who encounters them.
To fix this, your first step must be stating objectives that are not open to interpretation. Instead of “learn Excel” the stated objective for the learning might be: “Learn to open a new sheet in Excel, name the sheet using prescribed naming guidelines, and insert into the sheet five defined functions used most by our company including both relationships and calculations.” This not only creates clarity for what can be measured, it also tells the instructional designer exactly what he or she must include as the content of the learning.
For a trained instructional designer, having clear objectives provides insight into the best adult learning strategy to use for the training. If you know what you must accomplish, that makes it clearer the best training technique to choose. A lecture, a demo, a simulation, a role-playing exercise—there’s a whole host of options to choose from.
Clear objectives that demand specific outcomes means designers must move away from a reliance on lecture + PowerPoint as the go-to instruction method. While that may be a quick way to pass on information, it’s not necessarily the best way to ensure that learning delivers on the expected outcomes.
Take our Excel example above. An effective learning program may include a demonstration to the student of how to insert a function into a cell. Then it may require the student to practice those steps on their own within the program. Talking about the steps while showing the student a slide would probably not be an effective tactic to enable them to actually create an Excel sheet with the included requirements.
Just as a clear objective leads to a clear training strategy, it also provides a clear sense for how to measure the knowledge or skill transfer to the student.
When the objective explicitly states the parameters for success, then it becomes clear the right technique to use to ensure transfer took place. If students only need to recognize the correct information, a multiple choice question may be enough. On the other hand, if students need to fully understand a concept, then an open-ended question might be better. If, as in our Excel example, the student needs to know how to insert the formula, then the right testing technique may require the student to enter the formula directly into a spreadsheet and then be graded on their accuracy.
Putting It All Together
These are the design decisions instructional designers face with every new learning program they create. But these decisions become much easier when learning objectives are specific. All other decisions flow from achieving that clarity up front.
By using Measureable Instructional Design™ learning professionals can clearly show how their learning programs create behavior changes that then makes an impact on their organization. With this method, learning professionals can achieve predictable results. The more we measure our success, the more we learn how to analyze performance gaps and fill those gaps with effective instructional strategies. The more we do this, the more our stakeholders and business leaders will see our value.
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