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 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.
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.
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?
What are the key differences the client will experience after the change?
Answering these questions will help get you started on creating unique training content for the client. Having a strong understanding of your client and their business will help you ensure the content is right for them. Training content isn't simple enough to be used from one client to another because every business and its people are unique. Find out what the business' competitive advantage is and incorporate that into your training content. For example, when developing training materials for a client who is an industry leader in customer service, emphasize your content on how the change will impact their customer’s experience and how that aspect can be improved.
Each client has a desired result from the change. It can be to improve their billing procedure, cut costs, increase revenue, improve their onboarding process, or any of the other thousands of reasons for the change. The Instructional Designer also has a goal of their own. Well, goals. The primary goal is to ensure the client reaches their objective and has a means of measuring their progress towards it. Second, their goal is to be no longer needed. The sign of a successful project is one where you can leave saying to yourself; the client now knows how to deliver the training material and is an expert on the training content. They should have access to all the materials developed and any other resources that they may need to move forward independently.
Unexpected Change in the Business
As promised earlier, I wanted to discuss how a global event like COVID-19 can affect collecting the right information for training content development. Many organizations learned the hard way that they weren't ready for a transition to a virtual workplace. So, where does an Instructional Designer fit in all this? Well, although it may be a long time until we experience another global pandemic like this one, it does give us an alternate perspective on preparing your business.
New questions I recommend Instructional Designers to ask themselves when developing training content include:
How will this content scale over future changes?
What procedures have the client put in place in the case of an event like this occurring?
Does it affect your training content?
Can your training content be delivered virtually?
I think it's safe to say that one of the most popular changes businesses will make is the virtual accessibility of their resources and an improved digital presence. If we see the trend of virtual working increasing, you need to ensure your training content can reach those users with the same effectiveness as all the other users.
There's a new market for learning and training in the virtual workplace world and Instructional Designers must understand the differences in training development that come with this. It’s a learning experience for all of us, but that's the only way to get the best results in anything. Learning.
Transitioning to a virtual workplace is daunting, especially when this change needs to happen quickly. We want to help make this transition smoother and that’s why we’ve put together a resource hub for small and medium-sized businesses where you can find helpful tips and tools for virtual workplace change. Visit our website or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re looking for further assistance with your virtual workplace transition, we’re happy to help.
In times like these, it’s important to take a moment and appreciate what really matters to us. I know I am incredibly grateful for my health, family, and peers and I hope we can all see a prosperous opportunity for what’s to come. As the future of work evolves, adapting how we collect information and develop training materials will change with it. But for now, collecting the right information when creating training content for clients starts with understanding the type of change they’re experiencing and how to develop your strategy around it.
Accounting & Business Analyst / Associate Consultant Toronto