Tag Archives: planning

Course design 12: Write handout titles and trainers notes first – then write handouts and activities

From this point on the course should be fairly straightforward to put together. You have a plan to follow and you know how to make your training inclusive and engaging. Now all you need to do is write the materials.

This is the point when I leave my low tech index cards behind and go to my word processor. I type up the list of topics in the order already identified and then copy and paste it immediately below. I now have two copies of the same list.

The first copy stays on the first page for reference.

The second copy is reformatted in bold and each entry becomes the heading for a separate handout or exercise. The links to the various, pre-identified themes become the first of the preparatory notes for each handout or exercise.

But that’s all you do with these handouts for now.

Next you write the trainers’ notes (even if nobody else will deliver it). These are the notes accompanying each handout that clearly define what each handout will aim to achieve and what anecdotes you will tell. These notes are also the place where exercises are identified and where you can list the particular learning points and questions you want to introduce to the group at each stage.

Only then, when you’ve identified all these ingredients should you write the actual handouts that you are going to use.

By the time you’ve finished the trainers notes and handouts you should have a single document (part pack) that anyone could use to deliver your training provided they understand the topic. This doesn’t mean that others necessarily will gain access to your materials – simply that the very process of creating trainers notes alongside the course materials themselves keeps you on track and helps ensure that the original training plan is reflected in the finished product.

You can never overestimate the value of a good set of trainers’ notes – even if you never look at them again.


Course design 7: A few major points and supporting info/exercises

If your training is to succeed you will need to know much more about the topic than you will ever be able to include in the course itself. It’s not enough to just ‘wing it’ and try to stay ‘one step ahead’ of your participants. Trainers who don’t understand their topic enough to answer the variety of questions that crop up will quickly lose credibility – the kiss of death for any training course. So you really do need to have an in depth understanding of the topic you’re delivering training around.

But this creates a problem of its own. Since you can’t include all that you know you’ll need to decide not only what to include in your course materials but also what to leave out. I would argue that this issue of what to leave out is more important than deciding what to include. Any fool can heap fact after fact into their course outline but this will only overload your ‘victims’ and cause them to switch off as they fail to grasp the flood of detail that overwhelms them.

I use the analogy of a jigsaw when preparing training. The idea is that the course is a jigsaw containing a number of jigsaw pieces (important, fundamental points to be made). In a full day training around 10-12 jigsaw pieces is enough. These should be arranged in a logical, sequential order, each one leading to the next and they should be arranged in themes so that participants can continue to build upon the information received throughout. We’ll look more at this in a later instalment on ‘themes’.

For today it’s enough to understand that the structure of training needs to hang around a relatively small number of fundamental points. Everything else, from exercises to anecdotes are there to support those fundamentals, to make them memorable or to help participants to understand how they fit together.

For example, in Mental Capacity Act training for Local Authority care workers or those who deliver services in voluntary sector care homes I won’t usually introduce the rules relating to research involving people who lack the capacity to consent to it. I need to know about it in case I’m asked but most care providers don’t need to understand that stuff. Nor will I go into great detail about the processes involved in taking cases to the court of Protection. It’s enough for carers to understand that this could happen. Should they ever be involved in court of Protection cases they’ll be briefed by specialist lawyers anyway so they don’t need me to overload them in training about care delivery.

The actual ‘jigsaw pieces’ for a Mental Capacity Act course (for example) would vary depending upon the needs of the client but they would be likely to include:

  1. Background and purpose of the act (including the Bournewood story)
  2. Five principles
  3. The meaning of liberty
  4. Who assesses capacity?
  5. Assessing capacity
  6. Best interests
  7. Advocacy and the IMCA service
  8. Advance Decisions (AD)
  9. Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)
  10. Appeals and court processes
  11. Links with safeguarding

For the purposes of this series it doesn’t matter whether or not readers are familiar with the Mental Capacity Act. It’s just an illustration. All you really need to know is that there are probably around 25 different ‘jigsaw pieces’ I could have chosen but 11 will be quite enough to cover in a single day.

The arrangement above allows the participants to move through the ‘journey’ of training beginning with background and first principles which can then be included in all the subsequent activities, discussions, exercises and case studies as they develop an increasing awareness of their responsibilities under the Act.

The idea is that by the end of the training the jigsaw pieces we introduced come together to recreate the ‘picture on the box’, with each piece clearly linking to (and fitting with) all the rest to form a coherent ‘whole’. This takes a bit of thought but it is far more easily understood (and far more memorable) than an unplanned collection of seemingly random points. Even these same jigsaw pieces presented out of order would confuse the participants. For example, it would be extremely difficult for participants in Mental Capacity Act training to understand when to get into ‘best interests decisions’ on behalf of service users without first going through the principles of the Act, the fact that all care workers have a role to play in assessing capacity and the assessment process itself.

So know which points to include, which to leave out and the order in which to present the ‘jigsaw pieces’ to ensure understanding and retention.


Course design 2: The 6P rule

I have a friend who takes every opportunity to taunt me with what he considers to be both an amusing and accurate summary of what I do. It’s a cliché that has become so tired and familiar that it doesn’t even get a reaction from me any more, however witty my friend considers it to be. The cliché is this…

“Those who can do, those who can’t, teach and

those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”

My friend (we’ll call him Peter) is not unusual. There are many people who hold this opinion of teachers and trainers and it’s not difficult to see why. Training is a skill and it takes preparation and real consideration. Putting together a genuinely useful, engaging and interesting course requires a lot of hard work. Without this preparation the course will fail.

Unfortunately a lot of practitioners seem to think that if they can do the job themselves then they are qualified to train others in it. They don’t do the groundwork and their training falls flat. Not only is it useless for the participants they inflict it upon but it also inevitably makes them look incompetent. The result of this is that many people who have been exposed to this sort of training form the conclusion that trainers are just failed practitioners who’ve read a book and wittered at them…

“Those who can’t, teach….”

I would argue that the best trainers are also the best practitioners. They know the subject intimately. They also understand the difference between theory (which always exists in the ideal world) and the realities of practice. More than that, they’ve put in the hours to think how best to help their trainees tread the same intellectual and experiential path that they followed to develop their skills. This is much more than merely spouting information or wittering at an audience in front of a power point full of pretty pictures but very little else.

If you want your training sessions to work then you need to know your subject, you need to understand the stages of development that participants need to go through to achieve the goal of the training sessions and you need to have worked out precise ways to get them from A to B. You don’t need to be a qualified teacher with a PhD in education but you do need a clear plan and an equally clear sense of the purpose of the course you’re writing. You need to know what you’re trying to achieve. As Steven Covey once wrote – ‘start with the end in mind’.

And you need to prepare. Remember the 6P rule:

Proper Planning Prevents Particularly Poor Performance