• Have the users validated the content?
Many agencies are spending a lot of time and effort to document their operational and maintenance procedures. Sometimes there is a disconnect, however, between what is written in the procedure and what actually happens on the shop floor. After developing a beautifully interactive CBT program, the last thing that you want to hear from an end user is, “That’s not the way we do things down here.” Make sure that your source material matches the reality of the business flow. Performing a dry run of the procedure is a good way to determine whether it’s ready to be developed as a CBT. Using actual practitioners as your subject matter experts will also help to mitigate this problem.
• Is the content stable?
Developing a CBT takes time and money. You don’t want to waste your valuable development resources on a subject matter that changes all the time. If a maintenance procedure is in a constant state of flux or contains products and tools that change frequently, then the resulting CBT will require constant revision. You can try to avoid this to some extent by stepping back and making your instructions less specific — more process than procedure. Unfortunately this can also make your content seem vague or down right confusing. I offer the following as a slightly exaggerated example, “Turn the approved nut in the appropriate direction using the approved tool after applying the approved lubricant.” Your best bet is to look for material that contains information that is fairly static and secure.
• Does the content have a discrete beginning, middle and ending?
While not impossible, source material that contains a lot of branching or decision blocks (“if this, then this…”), or material that depends on a lot of assumed knowledge and/or supporting information can be difficult to turn into an effective CBT. The more the trainee is channelled into smaller subsets of specialized information, the more difficult it can be to return to the main flow of the lesson.
Inspection-based procedures can be particularly tricky because the trainee is often required to follow a series of “if/then” decision blocks as they zero-in on a specific problem. Likewise, a trainee who is unfamiliar with a new work environment may be required to interrupt their progress through a set of work instructions in order to gain background information from supporting documentation and/or internal links.
Both of these situations have the potential for drawing the trainee further and further away from the main thrust of the CBT. Granted, most maintenance procedures are more complicated than simply moving from A-to-B-to-C, but subject matter that jumps from A-to-Q-or-R-or-S and then back to B can be very difficult to map out from an instructional design perspective.
Incorporating the Principles of Adult Learning Theory
Without going into a separate thesis, let’s acknowledge that adults learn differently from children. Adult learning theory is not something new; it’s been accepted for many, many years.
Let’s also acknowledge that the things we typically learn in the workplace are different from what we were required to learn in school. Taking the above as a given let’s now look at some simple concepts that you should consider incorporating in your CBTs to ensure that learning actually takes place. These concepts are based on the work of Malcolm Knowles and other experts in the field of adult education.
• Adults want to know why they are required to learn something.
Ensure that your CBT explains why a particular task, skill or behaviour is important to the trainee. Adults want to know, “What’s in this for me, why do I need to learn this?” Providing a reason and a context for the instruction will help motivate the trainee to learn the required skills.
• Adults learn best through practical application.
Since adults learn best by doing, try to include meaningful activities in your CBT. The use of exercises, simulations, quizzes and even games are common ways for the trainee to apply and re-enforce the skills and knowledge they are learning. You can also consider adding a demonstration piece or practical exercise on the subject when the trainee returns to the work site.
• Adults bring their own experience to the learning situation.
Adults draw on their experience to help them solve problems. They each come with a repertoire of skills and knowledge that they can use when called upon to learn something new. Unfortunately they also have different levels and types of knowledge and experience. And to further complicate matters, individual learning styles are often different from trainee to trainee. As a result, there are two things you should bear in mind when you’re designing a job-related CBT: 1) Use the knowledge that a trainee should already possess as the basis for teaching new information, and 2) Attempt to cover as many different learning styles as possible by presenting the information in several different formats. This second point involves the use of elements such as: text, audio, graphics and practical exercises to deliver the training content.