A prospective client was shocked when I told him during a recent meeting that we develop content before designing activities. I guess designing activities first and then developing content based on those activities is the approach many people are taking now. Not me. In fact, there are three very specific reasons that I believe designing activities first is dangerous.
1) The purpose of training is to improve job performance. At best, activities approximate the job. No matter how robust, activities are not the actual job. The actual job is never as clear-cut and relatively straightforward as the activities are. There is just no way to capture all the nuances of a job in an activity, even if that activity is a simulation. And, honestly, most companies are not spending the time or the money to develop simulations.
If I develop content to train people how to do the activities rather than the job, what might I be leaving out?
2) The activities might not even mirror the job. In fact, the number one mistake I see with activities is that while they are often designed to increase interaction, they do not mirror the job. This means that learners have fun at the expense of practicing, as realistically as possible, what they are supposed to do when they get back to their desks.
For example, drill-and-practice activities such as Jeopardy certainly have their place. But, unless learners are training to be on Jeopardy, Jeopardy doesn’t mirror the job. If I develop content so that learners can answer Jeopardy question, what am I not teaching them about applying the content in these questions to their real life jobs?
3) Instructional design isn’t leveraged to improve the job. When you do a really good job of developing content, it is not uncommon to reveal flaws in how the work is done. This is a rare opportunity to question the status quo and improve the way work is done to get better results.
For example, on a recent project our instructional design efforts surfaced too numerous (and confidential) to name job improvements for our client.
When you focus your efforts on developing content based on activities, though, you don’t get to do a deep dive on the work, itself. So, you never get a chance to really evaluate and improve it.