Course design 11: Planning

So far we’ve considered a few of the elements that need to be considered when putting together a training course. But that’s all we’ve done.

It’s one thing to understand that we need to identify the ‘jigsaw pieces’ and the themes that will bind them together but it’s another thing to know how best to do it.

It’s one thing to know that we need to incorporate a range of exercises, case studies and anecdotes alongside ‘information giving’ but it’s another to know how best to do it.

It’s one thing to know that people have different ‘modalities’ to take into account but it’s another to know how best to do it.

There are many ways to plan a course and every trainer is different so if you have your own system that works for you then please continue to use it. The system I’m about to outline is the one that works for me but realistically, so long as you have a method that works for you it doesn’t really matter what system you use. But this is how I do it.

First I do a little research to update myself. My field is so fast moving that even subjects that I was absolutely up to date with 6 months ago may well need updating today. So I check for recent developments that I might need to incorporate.

This can be anything from recent research to new theories – even political debates around service provision may need to be included (depending upon the client and the trainees).

Then I define the points that I need to make. I do this in one of two ways:

  1. Mind map the whole topic;
  2. Write everything that may be necessary to include on a separate index card with references as necessary.

Then I arrange that information into a logical sequence (this is the beauty of index cards – they’re easy to shuffle around.

Once I’ve done that I check my original notes to ensure that I’m still on track with the client’s requirements.

Is this still the content they were looking for?

Is it at the right level of complexity?

Is everything relevant?

Once I’m satisfied that I’ve got the right content in the right order I make a quick note of the order in which to present the information logically.

Finally I rearrange the index cards into themes which can be used to give the course structure and consistency. Don’t underestimate the importance of this stage. These themes are vital to the success of the training that you will deliver.

In the end I will have a list of subtopics (and handouts) in the order that I intend to present them and a note alongside each that serves to remind me of the themes that each relates to. This is exactly the sort of list we identified in part 8 when we discussed training on deliberate self-harm:

“The themes I’d use for this particular jigsaw are….

  1. Deliberate self harm is a coping strategy.
  2. We’re all the same.
  3. Care workers are not the focus of people’s problems – it’s not about us.

The ‘jigsaw pieces’ most commonly included in a one day self harm awareness day are:

  • Self harm is not about us (theme 3);
  • Self harm isn’t suicide – but people who harm themselves are at higher risk of suicide (theme 3);
  • Self harm is about coping (theme 1);
  • Most self harm is done in private and kept secret (theme 3);
  • When coping fails people behave in more and more extreme ways (theme 2);
  • We all use particular coping strategies to feel better when distressed (theme 2);
  • The most effective coping strategies change brain/body chemistry (endorphins) (themes 1, 2 & 3);
  • Deliberate self harm stimulates endorphins (themes 1 & 3);
  • People generally use the best coping strategies they know (theme 2);
  • Our job is to enhance coping strategies – not to remove the only effective coping strategy a person has. (themes 1 & 3);
  • Developing alternative coping strategies (themes 1,2 and 3);
  • Looking after ourselves (theme 2).

The jigsaw pieces follow a logical pattern and the use of themes allows participants to see how it all hang together. This is important if the participants are to create a ‘schema’ which will be the focus of tomorrow’s instalment.

This list and the thematic notes alongside it form the backbone of the finished course. In the next instalment we’ll consider some of the tips and tricks that help us to make sense of the many strands that will need to be pulled together to construct a really effective training session.


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