One of the easiest mistakes we make is to lose sight of our target goals and audience. When we do this, the final product often centers around our own personal interests and preferences, instead of reinforcing the learner’s outcome.
This can become a sort of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" situation, where we try to hit a happy medium but too often jump to one extreme or the other. Unlike in the fairy tale, we aren’t trying to make the porridge the right temperature, the chair the right height, or the bed the right level of softness. For us, finding the “just right” balance is often most difficult when it comes to three areas: using new technology, incorporating new adult learning techniques, and emphasizing certain aspects over others.
Before we discuss these areas, it’s important to note that we have a huge advantage in finding “just right”: We know about our target learners. Most often, we either know our learners personally or know something about their preferences and learning styles, which makes it immensely easier to find “just right” for them. However, for the three bears in the story, none of them knew anything about Goldilocks, so they couldn’t even attempt to play to her tastes.
The other advantage we have over the three bears is we don’t have anyone invading our homes, eating our food, breaking our chairs, and falling asleep our beds. But that's an analogy for a completely different blog post.
Area 1: Use of technology
Incorporating technology can be a wonderful and extremely effective way to enhance the content and increase the benefit of the training. But it can also be an incredible distraction and insurmountable hurdle, if not used properly. As with all these areas, remember to keep your target learner and the target outcome in mind. If implementing a micro-learning element (for reinforcing key points between sessions) is going to become a nuisance to people who are already bombarded by technology, it might be best to find a different way to reinforce those points.
If gamification on mobile devices is offered to make learning fun for a group who aren’t used to playing games on their phones, the “win” you actually achieve might be as simple as teaching them how to open and play the game, instead of playing it consistently to learn the key points. Using technology simply to say your training is “more technological” may not actually help learners absorb the information. On the other hand, using an overhead projector and a flip chart to train a group of technology buffs may make them immediately question your credibility and reliability.
Area 2: Incorporating new techniques
We like to keep up-to-date on the latest theories of adult learning. We enjoy knowing that our methods make learning as easy as possible. But not everyone learns the same, and not all training can incorporate the latest techniques. For example, much has been researched lately about how visual-oriented most adults are. So you may be tempted to look for every opportunity possible to remove text and add graphics. However, if your target audience is a group of hard-core technicians, you may be able to do more with nuanced technical writing than with an overly-complicated graphic.
Area 3: Emphasizing certain aspects over others
We may be more interested in some aspects of the curriculum or source material, so we give it a disproportionate amount of focus. For example, I recently assisted in the development of an elearning course for rural bus drivers, training them how to manage difficult passengers and dangerous situations.
Most of the content was aimed at helping employees implement customer service techniques to defuse the behavior of angry and intoxicated passengers. A subcategory of the latter described how to deal with passengers taking opioids or other drugs.
Given the "hot button" issue of the current opioid crisis, it was tempting for everyone involved in the project to focus primarily on that issue. But as we received more input from people in our target learner demographic, we realized how rarely drivers have to deal with illegal drugs on their vehicles. So we had to ensure that we didn't over- or under-emphasize the issue but that it was “just right” in our training.
Going to extremes
There are many aspects of development that we can carry too far in one extreme or the other. But the three areas we’ve just described tend to be the most problematic. So, the next time you develop or present a program, take a moment to re-evaluate these three key areas with the needs of your target learners in mind.
For example, two of the most recent programs I assisted in developing were aimed at very different types of learners in very different stages of life. In the course about difficult passengers, rural bus drivers tend to be older, less tech-savvy, and less interested in career development. After all, operating a bus or van is their way to stay active after retirement and make some money. The second program was an in-person program for customer-focused retail employees in the legal cannabis industry. These learners are much younger and at the beginning of their careers. For both types of learners, we had to strive to make their training "just right."