When organizing principles get confused

I had a real AHA! moment last week that an organizing principle can sometimes confuse students. For years when I have taught trainers how to create specific, observable and measurable learning objectives, I have shown them the end product first. In fact, I have shown you several final products. And invariably, the participants’ design process was less than stellar.

Let me provide context.

I teach a three-stage learning objective design process. First, based on a needs assessment and the resulting learning objectives, we identify the key content for a lesson plan using a template I provide. Second, we determine the desired level of learning for each key content. Third, we add a learning level appropriate, active verb to complete each learning objective.

For years, I have operated on the philosophy that it helps to see the end product. For this reason, I have shown several written examples of completed learning objectives (with each stage identified). I also worked with the participants to develop the learning objectives for two different training topics.

I then had the participants work in their table groups to complete stage one, then stage two, and finally stage three on a flip chart.

This process usually takes half a day from start to finish.

The last time I taught this way, it resulted in general confusion and I had to teach it again the next day. Something had to change.

So this time, I decided to teach one stage at a time. Once all three stages were completed and we had learning objectives for the two examples from all classes and for the table group examples, I showed participants additional specific, observable and measurable learning objectives for other more complex topics.

It was like magic. Twenty-nine participants in 6 tabletop groups completed the three stages to generate learning objectives in half the time normally required.

All this time I have advocated having an organizing principle: show participants what the end result should be before starting. Here’s an example where that approach failed.

Brain research has shown that when teaching “nonsense,” something participants are unfamiliar with, it is best to teach 1 to 3 topics at a time. In this case, it was better to teach only one topic (or stage) at a time. Once that stage was mastered, the participants were ready for the next topic (or stage). That teaching approach had to be reiterated one more time for the last topic (or stage).

It just shows that the brain knows what it needs and as coaches we must pay attention to and respect those needs. I certainly learned my lesson!