How do you collect the right information when creating training content for clients?

We've had a thought-provoking past few weeks to say the least and a lot has changed in our everyday lives. Some things will revert to their pre-COVID-19 state after a few months and others will stick around for a significant amount of time. This is neither good nor bad, it's just change. To me, change is a sign of development and improvement, so I see our current situation as an opportunity to precisely do that.

A few months ago, I was asked: "How do you collect the right information when creating training content for clients?". At the time, I focused my answer on learning about the client and catering the content towards their learning styles so that they can become experts. Now, I don't think this has changed, but I do believe that there are more things to consider when collecting information. For example, how adaptable are the client's business processes, and how could a circumstance, like COVID-19, affect the training material? These are new considerations that I will explore later in this post but for now, I want to dive deeper into my video, where I addressed the question above. If you haven't seen the video yet, you can watch it below or on our new Harbinger Insights YouTube channel.

What is an Instructional Designer?

Before I begin to discuss how to collect the right information, I’ll explain what it means to be an Instructional Designer. Like I said earlier, change is a sign of development and improvement. Many businesses and industries are in constant evolution and others may experience significant transformations or transitions. Regardless of the case, both possess change, and an Instructional Designer is a cog in the learning process. Purdue University describes Instructional Designers as individuals who "implement theory and research processes to design and implement learning materials that produce greater outcomes for a specific group of people."

Type of Change

We can categorize change into at least three different types; developmental, transitional, or transformational. To ensure you are collecting the right information, it’s important to know the kind of change your client is dealing with. Each type requires a different training material outcome and a different strategy for collecting information. However, there are some constants, like how will this change impact end-users' current processes, the desired result of the change, and what users are most concerned about.

Developmental Change

Developmental changes typically revolve around improving or correcting current operations in the business. These include minor system improvements like procedural updates, payroll processes, invoicing procedures, procurement, approval processes, or planning and budgeting. These developmental improvements typically require more straightforward training content. Gathering information for these types of change fixate around what the key benefits of the new developments are and it's a good idea to highlight these incremental benefits due to the simplicity of the improvement. A common misconception of minor changes is that they are unnecessary and learning a new process is a waste of time if the old way worked just fine. I would argue that a small improvement opens the doors for more significant improvements in the future and this better equips businesses for new changes.

Transitional Change

Like developmental change, transitional changes focus on current business processes and operations. The difference is, rather than improving or correcting an ongoing process; the business is replacing the existing process with a more efficient one. An example of this could be moving from one payroll system to another or replacing a manual production procedure with a completely automated one. This change is a bit more significant than a developmental change and will have a greater impact on users. A common concern with this type of change is job security. There is a great fear that automation and digital transformation is going to result in massive job losses. This is only true in some cases, most of the time transitional changes create new opportunities and make old processes easier.

As an Instructional Designer, you want to learn as much as you can about your end user's day to day operations. This ensures your training content highlights the importance of the change in developing the new process. It's important to address major concerns in your training content to remind the users of how significant this change is to the business and why it’s important to their specific roles. Everyone wants to feel important so it’s crucial for users to know what’s in it for them.

Transformational Change

Unlike the first two, a transformational change is more profound and typically involves the other two types. This change is done over time and affects all areas of the company. It usually leads to a cultural shift, organizational product or services overhaul, or restructuring of business strategies. Due to the severity of this change, the Instructional Designer needs to understand the impacts of each business area. It is unlikely that a change of this magnitude would have just one Instructional Designer and I would recommend assigning them by business area. Instructional Designers need to gather information between each other to ensure consistency of training content throughout each business area. Addressing user concerns would be very similar to my recommendations above, focus on the benefits of the change and how the end-users will be involved in the process.

I have summarized the characteristics of these types of changes in the table below:

Preparation & The Client

Now that you know what type of change is occurring and how it affects users. The next step is to prepare the users. To do that, you need to prepare yourself first. Ask yourself, what are the client's learning preferences, how are they reacting to the change, how much detail do they require? Is it a simple change where minimal detail is needed or is it a complete overhaul that requires in-depth detail? Remember, the goal isn't to hold their hand throughout the entire process. The goal is to coach them to a point where the student becomes the master.

Instructional Designers should familiarize themselves with the change and learn the new processes and procedures. If it is a transformational change, learn about the differences in the organizational culture and again leverage the other Instructional Designers on the project to ensure consistency. I cannot stress that last piece enough; many businesses operate the same tasks in very different ways. One Instructional Designer's experience for the same process will be different from another's. The training content among the various business areas must not differentiate from each other in aspects other than the changed procedure or process unique to that business area.

When it comes to preparing for the client, you need to ask yourself the same questions for each procedural change that requires training content.

  • Who is affected?

  • What are their learning preferences?

  • What is the optimal length of this training material (whether it is an eLearning course, a Standard Operating Procedure document, or a User Guide)?

  • What are the benefits of the change?