It’s all in the Design:

Eight Steps to Planning an Effective Training Event

"...the ‘good’ one who has a good design and knows how to use it." (Showers, Joyce, and Bennett, 1997)

What is a training design?

A training design is a blueprint for a training event or experience. It is a detailed plan for what you will do, why you will be doing it, and the best ways to reach your training objectives. This document offers an eight-step model for designing an effective training event that meets the needs of participants and trainers alike. This model includes the following eight steps:
  • Step 1. Define purpose of the training and target audience

    Step 2. Determine participants’ needs

    Step 3. Define training goals and objectives

    Step 4. Outline training content

    Step 5. Develop instructional activities

    Step 6. Prepare the written training design

    Step 7. Prepare participant evaluation form(s)

    Step 8. Determine follow-up activities for the event

Each of these steps can be applied to a variety of training formats, including face-to-face, online-, and interactive, satellite-based trainings.

Step 1.
Define Purpose of the Training and Target Audience

The first step to designing a training is to become clear about what your training needs to accomplish. For some trainings your purpose and audience will be clear—determined by funders or well-established professional development needs. At other times, you may need to sort through and prioritize a spectrum of training needs before determining a training focus.

Once you have a clear sense of the training’s purpose and target audience, write it down! Then use this description to promote your program to prospective participants.

Step 2. Determine Participants’ Needs

The specific needs of training participants will influence the development of learning objectives and guide the choice of activities and training strategies. The more you know about participants, the greater the likelihood you will design a training event that will be meaningful to them.

There are several ways to find out about the needs and expectations of training participants:
  • Have all participants complete a brief, written survey as part of their registration packet. This will allow you to collect general information from all participants. A sample pre-training assessment form is included in Appendix A.

    Survey a random sample of registrants by phone. This will allow you to collect detailed information from a few participants.

    Review evaluation and feedback forms from past-related training events.

You will want to collect the following participant information:
  • current roles and responsibilities

    previous training on this topic

    reasons for attendance

    specific needs and expectations for the event

Conduct the needs assessment early enough to use the information that you collect in designing your training!

Step 3. Define Training Goals and Objectives

After assessing the needs and expectations of the participants, you are ready to define the goals and objectives for the training. Clearly defined goals and objectives provide criteria for:
  • clarifying expected outcomes

    outlining training content

    planning specific training activities

    selecting/developing materials

    designing evaluation procedures

    communicating program intent to the training participants and others (such as program administrators and supervisors)

    ensuring that the training is realistic and appropriate for the purpose intended

A training goal should be broad, spelling out who will be affected and what will change as a result of the training.
  • List the ways you would like the training to benefit participants—desired outcomes.

    Work these desired outcomes into written objectives, keeping in mind that participants want practical, usable knowledge.

    Check your objectives from the perspective of the training participants. Will this objective meet their needs? Will it help you meet your training goal(s)?

    Set training priorities. Rank objectives according to their importance, recognizing that you may not be able to address all of them during one training session.

Remember to develop both overall objectives (for the entire training session) and separate objectives for each segment and/or day of the training workshop. Present the objectives to participants at the start of each segment and/or day. Having a clear direction helps to frame the segment and/or day.

Step 4. Outline Training Content

Most trainings are divided into three key segments: an introduction, a learning component, and a wrap-up and evaluation component.

Introduction. The introduction establishes a positive learning environment. Opening activities should stimulate interest and enthusiasm about the training, reduce anxiety among participants, and build community. It’s important to build some content into introductory activities, so that participants experience these activities as meaningful. Nonetheless, the development of group rapport can’t be rushed, so make sure to allow time for participants to become comfortable with one another.

Learning component. This is the body of the program. During this part of the program, participants engage in activities designed to accomplish the training objectives. Concepts and ideas are taught and explored, attitudes are examined, resources are shared, and teaching strategies and skills are demonstrated, practiced, and discussed. To be most effective, activities should actively involve participants in acquiring knowledge or practicing skills. Step 5 offers detailed information about designing learning activities.

Wrap-up and evaluation segment. This segment should help bridge the gap between training and implementation and promote a positive feeling of closure. It is your opportunity to "pull it all together": highlight essential learnings, summarize central concepts and themes, and describe next steps. Participants should also have an opportunity to ask questions, discuss concerns, and provide feedback to the trainers. Finally, it is helpful to review the group’s expectations and identify resources to help satisfy those that have not been met. (Keep in mind that multi-day training events will need a brief introduction component and wrap-up component each day.)

Once you have established your priorities and begun to organize the training, create a rough training outline. Consider the following "rules of thumb":
  • Block out the time schedule into large chunks. Fill in "known" elements—such as meals and breaks—followed by specific activities. Finally, assign a designated amount of time to each activity.

    Start with simple concepts and proceed to ones that are more complex.

    Proceed from topics that are less "threatening" to ones that may be more sensitive in nature.

    Schedule activities which require the greatest concentration during times when people will be focused and energetic— such as first thing in the morning—and interactive sessions during low energy times—such as right after lunch.

    Give yourself—and the participants—a break! Build into your training design at least one 10-15 minute break in the morning and afternoon. Provide enough time for lunch.

    Build in time for reflection, discussion, and for questions and answers.

    During a multi-day event, allow time at the beginning of each day to introduce the day’s events, bridge one day to the next, discuss comments or questions, and make general announcements.

    Schedule 8–10 minutes at the end of each day for feedback, announcements, and to provide closure to the day’s activities.

    Review your plan with a critical eye. You may need to reduce the number of objectives you plan to address if you really want learning to take place.

    Be flexible! Although your design is a detailed road map, you may encounter detours along the way. The best training design not only accomplishes the objectives of the training, but also meets the emergent needs of participants.

Remember! Always return to your stated objectives and outcomes to guide program content and remind you of your purpose. It’s easy to go astray!

Step 5. Develop Instructional Activities

Developing a training design consists of organizing learning activities so that outcomes identified by your objectives are achieved. Each activity should have an introduction, a main segment, and a wrap-up segment, paralleling the overall structure of the training session. During the introduction, provide a brief description of the purpose and content of the activity and develop a connection between the activity and the one that preceded it. Make sure that activities flow logically from one to the next.

As you develop activities, select training strategies that are most likely to help you meet your objectives. For example, skill development is best achieved through modeling, practice, and feedback, while information acquisition can be achieved through group discussion or collaborative group work. Keep in mind that people learn in a variety of ways: some learn best by listening, others by reading, and most by doing. An effective training design incorporates a variety of training strategies, taking into account:
  • participant learning style

    principles of adult learning

    group size

    prior experience and/or education level of participants

    type of skill or information to be presented

    trainer’s style

Some strategies that promote active learning include brainstorming, games, mini-lectures, small group work, cooperative group work, simulations, role-playing, and case studies

When deciding which activities to use, consider these questions:
  • Do we know that this activity is effective?

    Have we used it before? Are we comfortable with this technique? Do we have the expertise to use it effectively?

    Does the activity require prior knowledge or skills on the part of participants?

    Will we have the time, space, and resources needed to accomplish the activity?

    Will the activity encourage learning without confusing participants?

Make sure that each activity includes a wrap-up component that brings closure by reviewing concepts, answering questions, and discussing applications. As part of your wrap-up, you may consider posing questions like: What will you do as a result of...? What major themes emerged? or What is your response to...?

Finally, decide on the amount of time you will need to carry out each activity and to achieve your objectives. It’s better to drop an objective than to rush through activities and frustrate participants or make yourself work at an unreasonable pace!

Remember that you will also need to develop resource materials to support these activities! These may include handouts, case studies, bibliographies, or questionnaires. Leave adequate time to draft the materials, obtain feedback, and make necessary revisions.

Step 6. Prepare the Written Training Design

Create a written document that provides a detailed plan of the training session, including your goals and objectives; the sequence of specific learning activities and time allotted to each; directions and key points to cover during each activity; and the trainer who will be responsible for the activity.

Consider the skill, expertise, training style, and comfort level of each of your trainers in making this designation. Also consider identifying specific trainers who will take the lead in "fleshing out" different sections of the training and creating the necessary supporting materials.

Use your written training design to stay on track during the training event, make mid-course corrections, and document training details.

Step 7. Prepare Participant Evaluation Forms

The purpose of the evaluation is to determine the extent to which the training achieved its objectives and to identify what adjustments, if any, need to be made to the training design or follow-up process. Some issues to address through the evaluation form:
  • Did the participants acquire the knowledge and skills that the training was supposed to provide?

    Were the trainers knowledgeable about training content?

    Were the activities interesting and effective?

    Was the training format appropriate?

    Is more training on this or related topics needed to support participants in their work?

During a multi-day training, have participants complete an evaluation form at the end of each day and a summary evaluation at the end of the training. Trainers should review the evaluation feedback immediately and, if necessary, modify the training agenda for the remainder of the training. A sample evaluation form is included in Appendix D.

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From India, Hyderabad

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Dear Kiran,
Thank you for this comprehensive note on how to plan training event. I found it really useful to my plan my training.
Would really appreciate if you could share the entire article and the evaluation forms/surveys you have referred to. You have mentioned 8steps but only 7 have got listed here.
Kindly share the entire article. I tried the link but it gives me an error.
Thanks again.

From India, Mumbai

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