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Time To Develop Learning Programs

Anyone who has been tasked with building a training program has struggled with the question of “how long will this take?” I’m delighted to share my conversation with Robyn Defelice who has been studying this question. My conversation with Robyn digs into the value of these numbers and what they say (or don’t say) about the quality of training.

Transcript of the Conversation with Robyn Defelice

Brian Washburn: Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast on all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning.

And before we get started here, I just need to remind everyone that Train Like You Listen is brought to you and sponsored by Soapbox. Soapbox is the world’s first and only rapid development and authoring tool for instructor-led training. It is a little bit like Instant Pot for training, where you just kind of throw a few ingredients in, the amount of time your session takes, what your learning objectives are. And then it spits out a lesson plan for you. That is Soapbox. You can find it at

Today I am here with Robyn Defelice, and we’re going to be talking about the amount of time that it takes to do training. Robyn is a learning strategist, an innovator, also an author. Robyn, thank you so much for joining us today.

Robyn Defelice: Thank you for having me.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: Before we get started, like we do with all of our guests, we’d like to just kind of tell everyone who we are using exactly six words with the topic today is the time that it takes to develop training. For me, if I had to give a biography in exactly six words, it would be, “I like developing fast, then iterating”. How about you? If you could sum up your entire career in just six words, Robyn, what would it be?

Robyn Defelice: I love this. I chose, “I endeavor to inform our field”.

Brian Washburn: And I think that– we were talking right before we started this recording, and I think that you’ve been very successful in doing that. You have an article that’s out right now that ATD has put out just in terms of research that you’ve done on how long it takes to develop training. And so I’d love just to hear from you and just to get a little bit more of a feel in terms of how long have you been taking a look at the ways and the amount of time it takes to develop training? And why has this been such a focus for you?

Studying The Speed of Training Development: The History

Robyn Defelice: I mean, we’ve got to dial back time here. So as an emerging consultant in the early 2000s, I was really looking for a formula for project estimations, also to help me determine my demand versus my capacity. So how much client work could I take on depending on this magical formula? So you do your research because you’re hoping, “well, if I’ve had this problem, obviously other consultants in our field have had it.”

I started to look, and I found some research by Dr. Karl Kapp, who’s a former professor of mine. And he provided data on this in 2003. I couldn’t find any other data. And then I noted Bryan Chapman did some efforts in 2006. But again, nothing else existed. So given my own work experiences and the available research at the time, I started thinking about the numbers as they stood and how they addressed some things, but not everything we face.

In trying to propose development timelines, it was a real struggle. So my inner two-year-old kicked in, and I started why-why-whying it to death. And so I went back to Karl and said, “hey, why don’t we reprise your research and refresh it?” And so kicked in 2007, we re-updated the numbers, and ever since, it’s been kind of this thing I’ve moved forward and in different formats.

So here we are 14 years later, and we’re still continuing to focus on it because of the demand in our industry for it and for the insights it gives. And if I had my way, we would even do more research around it to continue to refine it and make the information more comprehensive and applicable to folks. And I think that’s what these articles do is generate that discourse anyway.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. I mean, that’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re talking, right, because of the article.

Robyn Defelice: Yes.

Brian Washburn: Now, you’ve been taking a look at this for 14 years. What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve found as you’ve studied this particular aspect of training development?

What Surprises You The Most About What You Have Learned While Studying The Time It Takes To Develop Training?

Robyn Defelice: [LAUGHS] Probably about what I said at the end about trying to be more comprehensive and applicable. The answers I provide are never enough. And I’m saying that jokingly, but it’s a true statement. 

I would also say the demand of the data, I find it difficult to gain participants. That’s the most surprising thing. For as much demand as there is for the information, when I go to do the survey, time and time again, we get– I mean, 200 and some– I think it was like 260-some this time that responded. I guess I just imagined more would want to do this, so to speak. 

And if I look at the data itself, so those are kind of parameters around what’s been amazing. But if I look at the data itself, it’s the human elements. It’s the constant barrier, which when we first tapped into that notion in one of the former iterations of the survey, that was probably the most compelling thing.

And it might seem like a no-brainer, but the depths to which it can impact efficiency is pretty strong. And it just goes to inform our field that we’re still growing, and we’re still maturing. But so are the organizations and how they value what we do and also comprehend the value of what we do. I think some of that plays into it.

So you might look at barriers, but the other thing is we’re not looking at every barrier, probably. I’ve always been told in our field we’re typically serving organizations that are anywhere from five to 15 years behind us.

Brian Washburn: Now, yeah. And now you were just talking about barriers here. And I know that was one of the most interesting pieces to me as I took a look at the article that just came out in terms of what some of the barriers are. And so I guess my question, based on what you found, is, do you have any thoughts in terms of can or should or how can or how should training be developed more quickly or efficiently? How can some of those barriers be removed?

How Can Training Be Developed More Quickly or Efficiently?

Robyn Defelice: Again, because that’s a variable based on the organization, I think the first and foremost thing is awareness. So if you want to be more efficient, you have to not just look at the surface of a problem and say, “what was this circumstance, this project?” It’s the entire portfolio of projects over a certain amount of time. 

So one of the biggest things that I always encourage is, have you done an audit? And some people will just do kind of a cursory audit. Sometimes I go in and I’ll actually do what I call capability maturity modeling for them. Like your infrastructure is mature, but your policies and processes are not, which is impeding you from being more efficient and being able to develop. Or you don’t have an infrastructure that has large buy-in from your leadership, so how do you spend some of your time getting that buy-in so that when you go to maybe make a change in how you design training, or maybe you want to improve the process or ask for support in improving a process, how does that become something that happens more rapidly for you so that you get to the efficiencies you’re seeking?

I do think you can make things more quick and efficient. But you have to get to start to know yourself really well. It’s like singing that song, like “getting to know you, all about you” kind of thing. Really you’ve got to start doing that not just at your team level but your organizational level.

Brian Washburn: Sure, sure, because you’re touching different parts of the organization and using subject matter experts, things like that. What resources are available to you just in terms of not just time but in terms of manpower and other things? 

Now, we’re talking about making things more efficient. But the other thing, or perhaps the most important thing, I think, when it comes to training is effectiveness. Have you found, or have you even taken a look at any sort of relationship between the amount of time that it takes to develop training and effectiveness? Does a longer time frame to develop training mean that it’s going to be more effective because you assume that people just have done a better job putting it together? Is there any type of relationship in there?

When Training Takes Longer To Develop Does That Mean That It’s Better or More Effective?

Robyn Defelice: I’m so glad you asked this because it’s something I have to constantly point out. The numbers don’t say that whatever someone did was of quality or even help to move the needle on training. It’s just telling you how long it’s going to take. 

So this research can be used by an organization to strategically develop benchmarks for process improvement. Like I said, operationally audit current practices and policies, your org-specific thing you’ve got to gather, your org-specific data.

And tactically, by teams and team members, gauge their efforts and identify what barriers appear to be frequent in their performance. But, to your point of the question, the research cannot be used to determine the effectiveness of the training, even though I have an example. So I have an example in mind of a recent project that was done quickly and lacked some of the ID rigor that was necessary. It was still effective training, but the help desk tickets coming in demonstrated that it had– had we spent more time in analyzing the end audience and designing the piece more to accommodate all those audiences, the product would have been more effective. 

So, again, that isn’t even touching the idea of effectiveness as we’re probably thinking about it. Because what I think maybe you’re asking is, did it create a return on investment? And sometimes return on investment as is improved performance, or it could be reduced costs, or it could be better compliance, adherence, that type of thing. No. This research has never done any of that, like that specific look at things. Only because I guess it was very process-focused, not performance-focused.

Brian Washburn: Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. And obviously, measuring the effectiveness of training is kind of the Holy Grail that not many people have been able to figure out how to do super effectively. So that’s a whole other kind of branch of study and research when it comes to our field.

Further Statistical Research Being Done on the Topic of Barriers to Training Development

Robyn Defelice: Right. But we do want to see– so one of the things I’m trying to work with ATD on right now is, are some of those barriers that we listed in the research– do any of those, any one of those, have any type of correlation to the amount of time being presented in that data that we showed? So we’re in a little bit of a geek moment over at ATD trying to do some statistical analysis beyond descriptive statistics. So stay tuned for that, if and when we get that one out.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, Robyn, I could talk to you about this all day long. This is super interesting. We’re going to shift into our speed-round here, so we’ll wrap up the question and answer portion. But for those who are interested, that article is on the ATD website now called “How Long Does It Take to Develop Training? New Questions, New Answers” by Robyn Defelice

Get to Know Robyn Defelice

Brian Washburn: Robyn, before we leave, do you have a few minutes for us to do a quick speed- round of questions?

Robyn Defelice: Yes.

Brian Washburn: Sweet. So I know that you’re doing some presentations. What is your go-to food or snack right before you give a presentation?

Robyn Defelice: Honestly, nothing. I either have water or tea nearby just so I can keep blabbing away the way I like to. So keep hydrated.

Brian Washburn: Yep. Yep. You let the topic be your nourishment. I like it.

Robyn Defelice: Exactly.

Brian Washburn: Is there a piece of training technology that you can’t live without?

Robyn Defelice: So I hope this isn’t seen as a cheat, but I really cannot live without data. Of course, did you think I would answer any other way? 

And if that’s not good enough, our skilled workforce is our strongest tech. And so therefore I can’t live without all of you. And we don’t get to see ourselves as training tech, but we really are. Because if you look at the definition of technology, it can be defined as “specialized aspects of a particular field or endeavor and the practical application of the knowledge within it”. So I think we all embody the technology of our field.  

Brian Washburn: Yeah, so you’re talking about data. Do you ever use a specific app or a program to help you collect that data?

Robyn Defelice: I’m a big fan of Qualtrics. It’s a very robust tool. It just got purchased by SAP, I think, in the last year, in 2020. Super fantastic surveying. You can use it in association with CRMs and surveys and all sorts of form creation. But Qualtrics is by far probably one of the most robust intuitive pieces of survey tools that I’ve ever come across.

Brian Washburn: Nice. Now, do you have any recommendations for something that people should be reading or listening to, podcasts, for those who are listening right now?

Robyn Defelice: Yes, definitely you. That’s one. [LAUGHTER]

Brian Washburn: [LAUGHTER] Thank you.

Robyn Defelice: And then I have three, actually, that I thought about. And I feel like they kind of give you, like if you had a sampler plate, I feel like this is a sampler of what to do. So Learning Expert Talks with Alexander– I always say his last name wrong, so if he’s listening, I’m so sorry– Alexander Salas. I’m a fan of challenging the professional narrative constructively, and I think that’s what Alex does. I’ve been on his podcast and his vodcast before. And his series gives you exactly that. He puts an expert at the table, and I love that. And then I appreciate that the answers are not always there in the conversation. It kind of makes you have to go out and have some of your own or do some research. But it gets you really thinking about the perceptions and conceptions and misconceptions around trending topics in our field. And it just makes you want to know more that’s valuable.

So right there is one that I love. The eLearning Coach and Connie (Malamed)– oh my gosh, Connie’s mind– if I could be in her mind for a day, I would. Her panache for blending together visual communications and learning sciences is very fantastic. Anything that Connie writes or says, I take into consideration because I know a lot of that has– just the amount of thought that’s gone into it for her to share what she’s sharing is just, hands down– love what she does.

And then the final one is The Talented Learning Show. If you don’t know John Leh, you really should. He’s a leading expert on all things LMS. And not only that, he has a podcast that covers topics around any type of technology trends and driving engagement through technological strategies. So, John’s another person. That’s why I said you’ll get a little sampler here on those.

Brian Washburn: Robyn, you’ve been plugging all sorts of other people. So before we leave, do you have any shameless plugs that you’d like to share with our listeners? Anything that you’re working on?

Robyn Defelice: Yes. Right now, what I’m working on is a collaboration with eLearning Launch. I will be providing a microlearning course that will span four weeks. It’s in a live cohort format. So that means that twice a week for four weeks, we will meet online, and we will walk down through microlearning and its concepts. By the end of that course, you should be able to design your own microlearning map or strategy.

And hopefully you walk away also with a portfolio piece. I think we’re going to be focusing on developing infographics. So that’s through eLearning Launch. And I’m just calling it, I think, Microlearning Basics is all it is.

And of course, the other thing is, if I plug it, is obviously the book that I co-authored with Dr. Karl Kapp on Microlearning, Short and Sweet.

Brian Washburn: I love it. Thank you so much, Robyn. This has been super interesting, just to kind of take a look at what the research has borne out in terms of how long it takes. I hope that we can talk again because microlearning is another one of those topics that I think that people really want to hear a lot more about.

So thank you, Robyn. Thank you everyone else for listening here to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which is a weekly podcast. You can find us on Apple. You can find us on Spotify, iHeartRadio, or anywhere where you get your podcasts. Until next week, happy training, everyone. 

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

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