Recently I have been “Optimising” a huge library of learning and development materials for an organisation who wish to transfer traditional teacher-focused learning to a flexible blended approach.

The collection of  learning materials has been “designed” by a variety of individuals and consists of a mixture of styles, templates, fonts, this is a mistake, a design crime! The approach has diluted the organisations branding and provides no consistency for learners. This issue is relatively easy to address since in the future the material will be presented via a variety of methodologies aimed at producing learner-focused experiences which were simply not possible using the traditional classroom methods only.

Messy Methodology

What is difficult to comprehend is why the organisation failed to provide those they commissioned to design the learning materials with a standard template, and why these materials failed to deliver against objectives.  However the worst crimes have been committed by those who have designed the materials.

Design Crimes in Development

I am trying not to rant here, however when you have finished reading this article if you are remotely interested in ensuring the effectiveness of your training and development materials to accelerate learning, I suggest you go check them for examples of the following design disasters:

Design Crimes

  1. A picture is worth a thousand words, but are the selected images appropriate to convey information and to communicate goals? I am finding clipart for ClipArt’s sake in workbooks and presentations mainly, for the sake of aesthetic’s rather than to convey information. In many cases I find myself distracted by inappropriate and ineffective images and puzzled by the presentation which often became a media showcase the message or content buried.
  2. Obscure objectives – Clear objectives help designers to figure out what content and activity is required to meet them and set expectations for learners. When clearly defined aims and objectives are lacking, there is no sound basis for the selection or design of material content and methods. I am also finding examples where objectives have been clearly stated and not met.
  3. A focus on activities not information –workbooks stuffed with activities with no information about the purpose of the activity and no opportunity for the learner to evaluate the activity. Often the workbooks were designed  thrown together as support materials for accredited training courses which required participants to write assignments but of course when the material lacks the information required to generate new knowledge it is useless as a vehicle to provide continuous and effective learning reference resource
  4. What does the learner need to know that is useful in the real world? What is the learner supposed to be able to do and what behaviours must people take to reach that business goal and acquire skills and/or knowledge that will be immediately transferable in their role at work? Oh dear I could weep –94% of the masses of material that I have assessed has been populated with excessive information about established models and left me as a learner asking “so what, how can I apply this, and why is it helpful”?
  5. Spending too much time on the nice-to-know versus the need-to-know and therefore creating an information dump. You’re almost always going to have more information than you need and clear learning objectives provide a framework for filtering out the critical information. If learners have too much information they effectively overload and  unable to see wood for trees. Cover the need-to-know and put the nice-to-know in an appendix if necessary.
  6. Using language that is inappropriate or patronising. Use of unexplained acronyms, slang, culturally offensive and excessive text. The language used between the learning resource and the learner must be common to both rather than use few words to express meaning I have found pages upon pages of text pasted from Wikipedia which obviously hasn’t been proof read.

Effective Learning Starts with Design!

 The effectiveness of training and the ultimate transfer of learning starts at the design stage and the design provides an opportunity to take the first critical steps to engaging your participants – stakeholders if you are reading this perhaps now you might understand why your training and development materials don’t achieve all they might and need to be overhauled.

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