When facilitating ATD’s Designing Learning Certificate program, people always ask me “how can I make the learning stick? ” Many in the industry, might possibly think that, instructional design of a training program is a clear organized process, that if followed by the book, it would definitely lead to the desired outcome and effective impact once employees are back in their workplace. But in reality the biggest challenge every instructional designer should keep in mind is ” learning only leads to the needed impact, if the learners are fully engaged in the learning ‘JOURNEY’.”

Hence, it is not simply a matter of following clear steps-starting from the analysis of a performance gap, to confirming its route causes, to developing interesting content that covers the knowledge and skills etc.- but about ensuring that all these steps, and more, takes primarily the learner into account. This is called being learner centric and ensuring that everything we do from a design standpoint is focused, on what they need to be successful. So what are some of the “the real secrets of the trade to getting the right outcomes in the workplace.”)?

1) Design for a Holistic Learning Experience. Treat the training opportunity as a “Journey” and not just as an event. When you position it as a Journey, which starts even before the session, then continues during the session, and follows on afterwards, you maximize the ‘ Impact “ of your design, ensuring it delivers the intended outcomes, when the learners go back to their regular workplace environment.

2) Engage Your Learners in the Process. Starting from the analysis phase connect with them, not just for the goal of analysing the learning gap, but more to understand the human part of the performance challenge. Ask questions and observe actions. Show a genuine interest in helping the learners. When you do this, they will feel it and they will open up revealing hidden opportunities that can make a lot of difference to your design outcomes. Engaging the learners through the development phase (such as pilot test iterations), and again prior to the actual program delivery, ensures maximum benefit of the training program. They feel it is theirs and that you care to engage them through the whole process.

3) Pay Attention to Details. The more you design for the details of the Journey, the higher the engagement level by learners, hence the more they retain of what they learned to apply back at their workplace. Learners notice tiny details in the design, they appreciate it, and become more willing to put the effort to engage. We are not only talking about the concrete and visual details, like how well designed and comprehensive the participants booklet is, or how attractive the visual concepts on the walls are, but rather we are talking about the “human touch” of the design. How well did you understand the learners’ needs and how prepared are you to meet them? Have you engaged them prior to the program (eliminating spending a big chunk of time during the session itself to discover)? To tell you more about this last point, there are two tactics that I have used, especially when I did not have the chance to meet my learners or don’t know them well enough.
a) I look the learner up on LinkedIn and I remember one or two important things about them, and I make sure that I mention to him/her early in the introduction stage. The result is amazing in terms of their immediate engagement and willingness to learn more from someone, who knows important things about them and their needs, though they haven’t met before.

b) I have learned a more audacious approach from my good friend Mohamed Bahgat (ATD Facilitator and CEO of SEGA team) is to design for quality time to connect with the learners via mobile technology (WhatsApp) or by email, and embark with them on an engagement stream related to learning objectives of the training class itself. This helps assessing real needs and knowledge level and hence adjust the design if needed prior to class.

4) Design for Short bites of Learning. Plan to avoid “cognitive overload “ by designing for short bites of learning that are easy to digest. This is directly related to a key concept in ATD’s Designing Learning Certificate, which reviews understanding the relationship between the long-term memory and the short term one, and how can you make them work in synergy. But more importantly, how your design flow would be structured based on short and crisp activities, exercises, and “mini-lecturettes” to ensure continuous engagement, and to avoid cognitive overload for your participants.

5) Build Repetitive Reviews by Design. I believe in a statement that says “Without well designed reviews, then almost no learning is captured”. Reviews are not only tests and quick quizzes, but are short opportunities to apply what they just learned and get feedback from their peers. But how do you ensure that you build in reviews in the right place in the design? How often should they take place?

By review, I basically mean the moments right after any new concept or skill is introduced to the learners, that you “build in time for’ in order to explore, capture, and summarize with your learners, all the details of the knowledge and skills gained within those specific objectives. These moments should come immediately after every key learning topic being it an activity, a mini-lecture, an exercise, or a role play, etc. But every activity would only have a meaning from a learning standpoint if reviewed immediately after, and most importantly by the participants themselves. So should you design one single type of reviews or actually creating different reviews types to support the objective of having fully engaged participants? The answer is clear since you need to plan it in your design and depending on the objectives of the specific activity, what would be the best way to review (NB: in many cases, the review is a designed activity by itself to ensure full effectiveness of the reviewing process ). In net, Reviews should occur frequently but most occur about reviewing a critical concept the learner must apply back at the workplace

Are you ready for more great design tips? If so, we hope to see you at an ATD Designing Learning Certificate program.