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Training Design Checklist: 12 Effective Training Strategies Supported by Research (Part One)

In 2013, Dr. Will Thalheimer wrote a research abstract on the Decisive Dozen. He presented 12 training strategies that, if implemented, would significantly improve learning. In his paper, Dr. Thalheimer presented the research that proved that the strategies had a positive impact on learning. I have since used this list of 12 training strategies as a checklist when reviewing and designing training, putting my own call center spin on the strategies.

In this article I'll share the first of those six strategies.

1. Is the content true and correct?

While it may seem obvious that the content in any course should be true and correct, one of the characteristics of call centers is that misinformation tends to spread like wildfire among agents. This misinformation can easily sneak into training content, so I always double check my content with an authority that should know—the quality supervisor, the manager, or a long-term supervisor. Particularly when the content seems unusual or counterproductive, it becomes important to question it as sometimes no one has paused to think about it. Training does not want to be perpetuating bad habits and/or misinformation.

2. Does the training focus on the right content?

Sometimes we bury the right learning content under so many irrelevancies that exposure is very limited. I have to identify what is important and build the training around those important skills/knowledge. I structure courses around the things the trainees need to know and leave the nice-to-know items in a reference that can be accessed when needed. I don’t just give trainees principles and concepts; I give situations and actions to take so that trainees can properly apply principles and concepts when they are needed on the job. That takes more than just exposure to the content.

3. Does the training guide learners’ attention to the most important content?

The research shows that guiding learners’ attention to the most critical information increases their learning. It’s why we so often couch important information in step-by-step processes and lists such as a four-step hold protocol, or the three things that must be included in the closing. These steps help guide our learner’s attention to the critical things they must do.

Of course, it is very simple to put attention on irrelevant details or interesting side-information which will detract from learning. It is also easy, in an effort to simplify things, to put the attention on the wrong things—such as using the caller’s name three times (wrong thing) rather than engaging the caller and building rapport with them (right thing).

What is most important in the training? Is that where I guide the learner’s attention? Have I avoided irrelevancies, no matter how interesting? Sometimes I have to be ruthless in cutting out the interesting irrelevancies and nice-to-know information.

4. How can I help learners quickly build an understanding of the content?

I want learners to build a correct understanding quickly and without too much wasted time and effort. While this may help shorten training time, the goal here is to help learning be more effective and efficient. Some of the ways training does this include:

  • Connect new learning with what the person already knows. The classic way we do this in call center training is by having a discussion about the best and worse experiences trainees have had as a customer and then invoking that memory when talking about soft skills. But we can also do this by asking periodically what experience the class members have had with the current topic. Adults have lots of different experiences and encouraging them to share these and bring them to bear on the current situation will make their learning more effective. One of the best trainings I ever designed was a 45-minute refresher on call control that began with participants answering questions related to call control on flip chart paper posted around the room. This helped participants realize that they were not using what they already knew and the rest of the training focused on how they could apply their knowledge.
  • Provide the class with advanced organizers to help them know what is coming and put a framework on what they are learning. One of my favorite ways to do this is to provide a note-taking guide that contains information for the participants to complete and guides them to what is most important. Providing an outline or agenda for the course, establishing class rules, and letting them know what is next are all advanced organizer techniques that help learners quickly build their understanding of the content.
  • Use good examples. Play good calls for the class, show them well-structured emails, and provide good chat transcripts that the trainees can use to model their own interactions with customers.
  • Encourage learners to explain what they are experiencing. Taking time to reflect is a high-level learning skill because it is so effective. This reflection can be a pause after 10 minutes to ask them to mark in their notes the single thing they most want to remember from the last 10 minutes. Or it may be a debrief after a small group activity that does not examine the small group’s work product but instead asks for insights about the topic or principles they want to remember from having done the small group’s work.

5. Does the training repeat the most important concepts/skills?

When we provide repetition of the important concepts/skills, the information is embedded more deeply in learners’ memories. That does not mean that we have to repeat in exactly the same way each time. Varying the repetition helps keep the learners more engaged.

6. Does the training help the trainees practice retrieving the information?

Practice in memory retrieval helps learners retrieve the information more readily in future situations. In training we provide this practice through scenarios, simulations, tests, reviews, and games. We always have to make sure, however, that the memory retrieval practice is focused on the most important information.

For instance, how important is it for agents to remember what year the company was founded? Generally, not very important. What is more important is to remember the company’s mission and/or values as they are reflected through the agents’ work.