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3 Rs of Smarter Training Design: Reuse, Recycle, Renew

— by Trina Rimmer

Web based training

With many training and development departments stretched thin or nearly non-existent, the task of creating new online training is daunting enough. Who has time to think about, let alone do,  maintenance?  Of course program maintenance is usually the one thing no one ever budgets [enough] time or money for. And yet, allowing your programs to go stale poses significant operational risks like resource confusion, alienation of the training audience, and higher operating costs (just to name a few).

When training maintenance is the big, pink elephant in the room, where do you begin? I say – go green!  I've put together a few easy to implement training design best practices that will get you off the training reproduction line by using the 3 Rs: Reuse, Recycle and Renew.

1. Don’t “Date Stamp” Your Material
Imagine for a moment that you’re a newly hired sales rep for ACME, Inc. You’re completing the sales & service training that your manager assigned when you run across this statement:

“ACME’s newest waffle iron with built-in flat screen HDTV – the Waffle Pro2000 – will be available in stores on November 1, 2007.”

2007? How likely are you to pay attention to the rest of the training since it’s clear that this content hasn’t been updated in years?

2. Question the Need for New
Many training teams pride themselves on delivering the latest and greatest content to the field.  But to embrace the 3 Rs you have to be willing to question the need for new content and refocus on smartly leveraging existing resources in your training materials.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a content management system, a company intranet, or a knowledgebase that your audience can access you're a step ahead when it comes to putting the 3 Rs into practice because you can design training that links to existing resources, rather than create brand new ones.  But what if you're not equipped with a content management system or an intranet?  Or, what if your intranet security firewalls make linking from online training impossible?  Not to worry – you can still provide an easy to maintain handout or “cheat sheet” that directs trainees to the best location for accessing current information.

3. Teach Trainees How to Fish
In my experience, trainees always want more or better tools & resources to do their jobs. This is puzzling to trainers who wonder why trainees aren’t using the resources already provided.

Maybe it’s because you haven’t taught them how to fish?

Design training exercises that are focused on teaching trainees how to find information using existing resources. Try “chunking” your training content into smaller lessons (5-minutes or less) and end each one with a scavenger hunt or a quest that gets the trainee exploring the pertinent resources. At the end of all of the lessons, you can quiz them on the knowledge they should’ve obtained from all of the resources. Not only does this get them using the tools, but the act of researching is much more likely to make training sticky.

Sometimes trainees know how to fish, but the task of fishing is just too hard. When information or tools are buried on your company website or intranet, it discourages their use. If that’s a common complaint in your organization, reach out to your trainees with some productivity tips – like how to save frequently used intranet pages to their desktop.  Or, approach your leadership about making some recommendations for improving everyone's least-favorite, hard-to-use resource.

For more great tips on minimizing training maintenance by designing with reusability and renewability in mind, check out Maintenance: The Forgotten Step by Mark Simon in the May 2010 issue of T+D magazine.

Have you already embraced the 3 Rs? Or have you implemented some of your own smarter training design practices? If so, share them with the Mindflash community by clicking on the comments link.

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

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