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How to Choose the Ideal Training-Design Tool

— by Trina Rimmer


I’m a big proponent of “paying it forward” so a while back I gave away 3 free PowerPoint templates for use in your training projects. Recently, I got a phone call from a friend and former colleague who was excited about putting these freebies to good use…

Friend: “I’m in love with the chalkboard template; it will really help me switch things up. In fact, I love it so much I think I’m going to use it for my next course!”

Me: “Really? That’s great! What topic are you training?”

Friend: “I don’t know yet – but whatever it is, this template will look SO cool!”

Did my friend’s words raise any red flags for you? They did for me! We’ve all seen it and heard it before — bosses or clients who insist on implementing a new tool simply because it’s the latest thing, or colleagues who use a highly stylized template or font for no other reason than “it looks pretty.”

Just like purchasing an evening gown first and then looking for the red-carpet occasion to wear it, I see that my friend has fallen in love with a concept without first identifying the needs of her audience, the learning objectives — or even considering the full spectrum of available tools for supporting her instruction. By committing to concept before fleshing out the content, she’s fallen into the trap of “impulse training design.” You can often spot impulse training design in final products that look like this:

This “elearning Christmas Card” by Kevin Thorn, hilariously illustrates what happens when a designer/developer focuses on “style” (I use the term loosely here) to the exclusion of substance.

Since it’s human nature to become distracted by all things shiny and new, how can you stop yourself from ending up an impulse training designer?

Ask yourself:

1. What is this tool designed to be used for?

In his book, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman uses the term affordances to refer to an object’s design aspects that suggest how it should be used. In other words, it provides a visual clue to the object’s function and use. Are you clear on the template’s affordances? Any limitations? Would it cause you more time and effort to adjust the existing template than to create a new one yourself?

2. What knowledge and skill gaps are you attempting to bridge with this tool?

Bill Cushard wrote a nice post on implementing Social Media.  In that post he makes that point that you should identify the problem first instead of starting with the strategy. Similarly, before deciding on tools to use, first be clear on the knowledge and skills gap that your instruction is attempting to close. In other words, determine the “what” before focusing on the “how.”

3. Is this the best tool for supporting your instruction?

Finally, decide if the tool you’d like to use provides you with the most effective way of delivering your instruction. While I’m all for finding innovative ways to leverage tools, there’s a fine line between experimentation and cramming a square peg into a round hole. Tools like my chalkboard-themed PowerPoint template can help speed up the design and development timeline for many types of online courses. But if you’re planning to use a chalkboard theme for training computer programming, for instance, I’d send you back to the drawing board. Why? Because using such a stylized format for delivering technical content may negatively impact visual clarity, leading to cognitive dissonance for your learners.

Looking for some more design pointers?

Are you guilty of impulse design?  (It’s okay. We all are from time to time.) Unburden your guilty conscience and commiserate with the Mindflash crowd by submitting a comment, below.

>>Read more about training design on the Mindflash blog.

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training. When her skills aren’t being tested by her children, you’ll find her helping others to develop their own training design muscles.

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