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Does that training need to be a full day? Does that elearning need to be a full hour?

Figuring out how to counsel a client on the fact that a training program doesn't need to be as long as they might think is a key skill for instructional designers.
How long does training need to be? Wristwatch

My favorite teacher of all time was Mr. O’Laughlin, who showed the world what a 4th grade teacher should be. He was funny and always had us laughing. He was kind, smart, from where we stood he was effective, we seemed to learn things. He even had the patience to teach us chess. He was all of these things, that is, until someone broke a rule (which, as fourth graders, all us did at one point or another). Then he’d break out the dreaded punishment: a 500-word essay about what we did.

Legend had it that, several years before, there was a student named David Miller who, upon receiving his gazillionth 500-word essay assignment, sat down and wrote the following:

I was very, very, very, very (insert 493 more “verys”) bad.

In a way, he fulfilled the requirements of the assignment, although I’m not quite sure this was Mr. O’Laughlin’s intention. To some degree, the reminds me of how some training programs and metrics are still implemented.

We’ve had clients approach us, asking for a 3-day training program or a 2-hour elearning module. Very rarely have we ever actually completed those projects by delivering a 3-day training program or a 2-hour elearning module.

Sure, anyone can develop a training program – whether instructor-led or online – to fill a given amount of time. Two questions, however, need to be asked:

  1. What needs to be accomplished by this training program?
  2. How much time do we need to accomplish it?

I know many people in the learning and development space who would ask a third question: Are we sure we even need a training program in the first place? Perhaps upon further review, the goal(s) can be accomplished through job aids, resources that can be found on the Sharepoint site, or in-application tutorials.

Assuming training is the right answer, then here are some initial questions to ask:

  1. Three or six or twelve months after the training program has been launched, how will we know it was successful?
  2. What, specifically, should the learners be able to do as a result of the training program?

Once these questions are answered, then the next step is to identify what new content should the learners be exposed to and which learning activities would be most likely to assist the learners in cementing new knowledge or skills into their daily practice.

Once these questions are answered, and only once these questions are answered, can you really determine whether 3 days worth of in-person training or 2 hours worth of elearning is the right amount of time.

It’s ok to begin by taking an educated guess at how much time your program will need, but it’s only respectful to the learners and to the organization to revise that estimate once you have a clear idea of how long a session will actually take.

The most important metric in the world of learning and development is determining whether a learning program was effective. After all, which of the following statements would be more impressive to you:

Statement A: Our training program led to a 13% reduction in re-work.

Statement B: Our training program is 3 days long.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you do when someone approaches you and says that they need a training program that is ____ in duration?

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