Training: getting to lean

Here’s how you’d check the schedule from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Diego (SAN) on October 3rd:


Odds are, you got that right. And if not, odds are you can look at your answer and see the differences.

The original course was in a mainframe-based CBT package, so you’d receive feedback based on your exact answer.

  • Example: if you put a zero in the date — 03OCT — that was fine; the system made leading zeroes optional, so your answer would be correct, and we’d say so.
  • Example: if you didn’t start with an A, the feedback would say that the entry needs to start with A for “availability.”

My point here is that, contrary to my own expectations, I could help a complete novice use this basic entry correctly with fewer than 50 words of explanation.

Sure, there was more to learn about the availability entry. With each learning point, though, I saw that often people didn’t need anywhere near the amount of background or explanation that I might have thought.

Not every learner necessarily likes this. I believe some people prefer, or at least think they prefer, lots of detail, lots of explanation, lots of “facts.” Training without screen after screen of bullet points seems alien to them. They’re accustomed (or conditioned) to think that lecture is how learning happens.

That’s why a focus on outcomes is vital. If people perform X correctly with less instructional time, it’s hard for a client to argue “we should spend more time on X.”

3 thoughts on “Training: getting to lean

  1. That’s a great example of using examples rather than explanation. I think one of the challenges we face is that teaching in such an efficient way can be seen by some as a threat. It takes skill and thoughtful design to create lean materials, but some people are emotionally invested in making the simple seem complex. The sage on the stage is unlikely to happily step to the side and let the example do the talking.

    Maybe one way to avoid threatening the expert is to make the SME an interview subject, not an author. If the SME doesn’t invest time and ego in writing about the subject, they’re less likely to protest when you boil down their Very Important Details to 2 quick, self-evident examples.

  2. Cathy, I’ve always thought the programmed learning workshop did a lot to help me not be the Sage on the Stage.

    When you’re developing self-study materials (which is more and more how training looks), you’re not going to be there when learning happens. The “programmed” part didn’t mean regimented (or wasn’t supposed to); it meant designed to increase learning.

    Combine with the lean approach advocated by Dale Brethower and Geary Rummler, and you’ve got something.

    To borrow from Elmore Leonard’s rules for writers, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

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