Langevin Blog

How to Structure Your Training

April 12th, 2012

Instructional Design - Lessons

I’ve seen a lot of training programs. I’ve examined the materials from dozens of past clients, and watched hundreds of people deliver training. One variable that consistently challenges trainers is how to organize their training. Some people use chapters, which then contain modules. Some people like to organize units into sections. Some people use lessons which are grouped into branches. There’s no end to the names you can use for the divisions of your training content.

How your content is organized has a direct impact on how easily people can navigate your materials. It also affects how well people can learn your content. When a course is organized logically and simply, learners can focus on learning rather than trying to figure out the training’s structure.

Unfortunately, there are no uniform definitions for most of these words: units, sections, chapters, branches, modules, etc. They all have roughly the same definition: a grouping of related information within a larger whole. There is one word, however, that we should all agree upon as instructional designers: lesson.

A lesson is a discrete unit of instruction. This implies two things. Firstly, it means a lesson is instructional in nature. This means that it does three things:

  • It gives learners information about a job.
  • It provides learners a chance to apply that information in the same manner as it would be used on the job.
  • It then allows learners to receive feedback on how they did in the application.

The second implication for the definition of a lesson is that it is discrete. This means it is self-contained. It can be taken out of one program and plopped into another with little or no changes, therefore, the content it covers must be whole and complete: It must contain one complete job task or one complete informational topic as its content. (The preference is to focus on tasks and avoid topics, but that’s an issue for another blog post.)

As long as you use lessons as your smallest unit of instruction, all other organization systems become secondary. You can group your lessons as units within sections, or as modules within chapters, etc. Which terms you use at this point becomes inconsequential. Each lesson sets learners up to succeed not only in the training, but hopefully also back on the job. The rest, as they say, is gravy. Just be careful not to over-complicate the rest of your course structure. It’s probably best to use at most two other terms and avoid a confusing or intimidating hierarchy in your training’s setup.

How is content organized in your organization’s training programs?



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