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Well-designed training has something for a range of experience levels

Good design can ensure training offers value to both novice and experienced learners during the same session.


A guiding principle for good instructional design is to be sure that you know your audience and design something that meets their specific needs.

If you know that your audience is relatively inexperienced, then you need to make sure the basics are covered. If your audience is quite tenured, then advanced skill building would be in order.

What happens when you’re not quite sure who is planning to show up (for example, when you have to design for a conference session)? What happens when you’re told that your audience will have a broad range of experiences?  

I recently facilitated a presentation skills course and a participant said that her struggle was that in the past she had some participants complain that her content was too complex… and other participants complained that it was too basic. What’s an instructional designer to do?

Over the past few months, I was involved in two distinct projects designed for people new to two different organizations. After piloting each of these projects with groups of experienced staff, both pilot groups commented about how these training modules would be useful for other experienced staff in addition to new staff.

The first program was a new employee orientation program. I had worked with a team to overhaul the existing program (you can read more about it here). One reason experienced staff suggested that their experienced peers could benefit from attending and participating in this program is because the organization had grown so much in the past few years that few people really had a good understanding of what other people around the organization were doing. Coupled with the fact that the introduction of each team across the organization was highly experiential (and fun), the design of this new employee orientation offered value to new and experienced staff alike.

The second program was designed to introduce basic concepts of how nonprofit organizations function to people coming from the for-profit sector. After the pilot session, the more experienced people in the room commented about how they’d never been asked to reflect individually on some of these concepts and the small group discussions allowed them to talk about things they’d never talked with their colleagues about.

While both of these programs were designed with less experienced people in mind, there were four design elements that seemed to benefit staff from all experience levels:

1. The Training Program Solved a Problem

One of the basic principles of adult learning is that the learning experience should solve a problem for participants. In the new employee orientation, more experienced staff had lost touch of what others around the organization did. In the nonprofit fundamentals session, more experienced people were able to explore aspects of nonprofits that many of them had not thought of before.

2. Training was Designed with Activities to be Engaging

In the new employee orientation, we incorporated activities ranging from a round of Operation to peeling oranges. We also used some Storyline-based elearning with branching scenarios and group discussions. For the nonprofit fundamentals course, we had participants simulate what it would be like to hire an executive director, and then what it would be like for that executive director to fully fund his or her organization. When people spend less time sitting and listening and more time involved in simulating real-life experiences, they find value.

3. Facilitator Gave More Tenured Staff Opportunities to Share their Experiences

Again, going back to principles of adult learning, people like to share their experiences. This is a benefit both to those who like to share their experiences and to less experienced staff who are hungry for concrete examples of what they could be facing in the coming days, weeks, months and years.

4. Training Included Opportunities for Individual Reflection

Too often people don’t take time out to think and reflect about what they’ve learned. Each of these modules allowed time for individuals to think about what they’ve learned and how it could apply to their jobs.

Do you have any tips for how to design with both novice and experienced learners in mind?

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