When you are new to learning and development or training, you may well have done some training in the past and got some positive results. This has probably piqued your interest and got you thinking about how you can do even better, or perhaps overcome some of the challenges you’ve experienced. That’s what this post is about, some pointers and thoughts about designing learning interventions when it’s a bit newer to you.

If you are attending the CIPD #FacilitationFest you’ll want THIS LINK for the slides on your mobile device. 

Hold tight, fast ride

What makes a great learning experience for you?

For me it’s all about:

Learning should be a fantastic activity. Something that has fun, lightness, lots to make me think and lots for me to do! Yes, I need reflection and thinking time, during and after, but I also need lots of opportunities to discuss what we are grappling with and be able to apply it.


What are some of the challenges you face when thinking about designing your learning interventions?

Could it be around what to actually cover in the session (as opposed to pre-work, inter-session and homework) or to have as a digital/blended option (such as e-learning, virtual classroom, webinar, asynchronous discussion and so on)?

Perhaps it’s about the overwhelming amount of material you’ve got – either just the subject area, not knowing where to start, or too much given to you from a subject matter expert (often referred to as SME or “smee” — but don’t confuse with a Small/Medium-sized Enterprise in business).

You may be designing a live session (face to face or online) and wondering what activities exist and which you should choose to suit your audience and learning goals.

What to consider

I’ve assumed that you have done the due diligence with regards what the problem actually is rather what is being presented, as that’s a whole other topic. When starting with designing the actual training session there are some things to take into consideration.

One of the first is NOT to focus on learning styles. There’s a lack of scientific empirical evidence that it’s useful to design and deliver in this way. See my Scoop.It curated resources for more information.

Another is to NOT get overloaded by all the different learning theories out there. Yes, you should know about some of them and apply them at some point. But if you are newer in your career in L&D or as an Instructional Designer, then you can come back to them or get a background in them to support what you are doing.

What you should be focusing on, is the audience, the environment (which live online platform or what is the room setting?) as well as what people need to do at work after your learning intervention.

It’s this focus on the actions or behaviours people need to show at work that drive what we put into our training session.

Outcomes, but not as you know it

When designing, we need to know the outcomes for the session. These aren’t the traditional “learning outcomes” that often start like this:

By the end of this session you will…

  • Understand why time management is important
  • Describe an effective time management strategy
  • List the top three time stealers
  • Recognise good time management techniques

What’s wrong with these? How do I really know you “understand” something? You might well be able to “describe”, “list” or “recognise” something, but does it mean you are fully equipped to go back to work and actually do something?

Our outcomes need to be performance based, behavioural actions. In other words, what we can see people doing at work. Far better would be:

  • Create a detailed agenda for each meeting
  • In the calendar invitation justify why you have invited each person

I can physically see whether you have performed these actions. I can see the quality of them, such as the difference between a few bullet points of an agenda versus a full page of times, sections, people assigned to different topics and so on.

Also what this does, when designing our training sessions or other learning materials, is focus on activities that people can do to learn and practice those actions.

Understand vs do

If my training session has the outcome of “understand why time management is important”, in my experience with inexperienced or poorly performing trainers, this lends itself to a boring lecture.

It doesn’t have to – as a trainer we can pose this as a discussion point at the beginning of the session and have all sorts of debate and activities. It’s just that a lot of people won’t do that.

With the outcome as “create a detailed agenda for each meeting” I could still lecture. I could give you a terrible photocopied example and drone on through the example. Hopefully though, the switch in approach and focus inspires more action from the delegates to actually do some of this stuff!

Presentation, lecture, discussion… it’s all still valuable stuff and I use it a lot myself. I just make sure I focus on what the attendees can also do in the session in order to perform back at work.

This is summarised nicely in a blog post from James Clear, Stop Thinking and Start Doing: The Power of Practicing More where he says:

Let’s say your goal is to write a book. You can talk to a best-selling author about writing, but the only way become a better writer is to practice publishing consistently.

James also uses a great diagram to show the difference between learning that can be very passive and the activity that is practice. Follow @James_Clear on Twitter.

Steps to achievement

We have our outcome as “create a detailed agenda for each meeting”. For designing any kind of learning intervention it’s good to list the sub action points, or perhaps steps, for achieving this.

  • List of topics to address
  • Split topics into sections
  • Add times to topics
  • Assign people to topics
  • Distribute to all meeting attendees
  • Print ahead of the meeting / have digital document link to edit

And so on. This gives us a great structure for the session already, as we know the steps people will have to complete at work, so we need to tackle those in the session.

Training activity ideas

At this point you can start thinking about the types of training activities you can select from in your session.

I’m not going to go into detail here about those ideas and suggestions as it’s a big other topic, but here are a few links to get you going if you need them:

And that’s the basics to get you going with the beginnings of your design. After that, it’s matching up the activity to the work outcome and putting it all together.

Join our webinar and virtual classroom Facebook page