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Designing a Learning Event or Experience

Designing a Learning Event or Experience

It is tempting to thinking that very little preparation is needed to put on a learning event, such as a short seminar, longer workshop or whole multi-part formal training course. However, if we want the experience to be a good one for both the organization and the learners we wish to attend our event, some planning is always going to be necessary and this is best done at the event design stage (which will ideally be many weeks before the learning event(s) commences). One of the best ways to do this pre-planning is to adopt a checklist approach and the one described below in three sections and 18 questions all up can apply to almost all circumstances.

1. What is the overall Goal/Outcome for the Project in one sentence? This will depend on the learning event but should be outcome focused so that there is no uncertainty as to what the training is to achieve.
2. What is the target budget and time scale for the project and how is it best controlled/managed? Determining learning costs and time to produce up-front are a key way to set expectations. Once done expense and deadline monitoring systems should be agreed.
3. Who is the Target audience(s) (and if multiple how are they different and who is primary)? A learning design should be carried out with the intended audience well-identified and their needs understood. This is particularly critical where an event has multiple audiences and the learning needs adaptation (major or minor) to accommodate the differences and make it more appealing to each audience.
4. What does the material designed need to accomplish for each major audience? Where there is more than one audience, careful analysis of each should be done (one at a time) to identify similarities and differences (this might include changes needed in content, style, channels and even practically (such as where learners need a different language or have a disability).
5. What are the main learning outcomes that are desired for each major audience? 3 or 4 tangible expected learning outcomes are always necessary for any learning event but check that these are applicable to all intended audiences and if not, adjust accordingly.
6. What does each audience need to be able to do after participation in the training (behaviorally and in action terms)? In addition to learning outcomes it is helpful to consider what you want to see learners being able to do differently/better or in action terms as a result of attending your learning event.
7. Over what lengths of time are various training events/interventions held? Although most learning events have an intended length for delivery, it may be that more and even more commonly less time is available in some circumstances. Where this is known changes in the early design can be made to accommodate these needs/expectations.
8. What is the core content needed for the training? Content is your core material that forms the “backbone” of your learning event or the main “message(s)” you want to convey. This could be written content, audio, video, pictures, diagrams and other material that is critical to your goal.
9. Has the similar (but different) relevant content been collected and synthesized? Learning projects have to be done in a timely manner but the content needs to be available and finalized before it starts to be turned into a delivery format. This is particularly important where there is lots of similar but different content to pull together or synthesize.
10. What kind of content is required? Learning delivery can have many forms, including one, a few or many of the possibilities listed below. It is important to determine which of these is going to be needed in the circumstances and which ones are going to be primary or most important.
  • Pres. Decks (PowerPoint)
  • Games/Quizzes/Puzzles
  • Facilitator Guide
  • Participant workbooks
  • Flip-charts
  • Cue cards/Job Aids
  • Video/vignettes
  • E-Learning modules
  • CDs/DVDs
  • Case Studies
  • Hand-outs
  • Posters
  • Case studies
  • Audio
11. What learning metaphors/ analogies/stories do we want to use/work best in this situation? Learning content can be very dry without illustrative analogies, metaphors and applicable stories which can help learners to anchor new learning to existing knowledge.
12. What client/customer examples are available to draw upon to illuminate best practice? As in analogies, metaphors and stories, client or customer examples are a powerful factor to consider when designed some learning content (especially when learners need to emulate a success for a client in the past).
13. What kind of graphics are needed in the content (diagrams, illustrations, photos etc.)? Learners are rarely engaged by plain text to read in any format and interest can be lifted by relevant/ appropriate graphics in many forms (including diagrams, illustrations, photos, video clips and other more visual stimuli).
14. Through what channels do we want the content to be available (e.g. Workshop/seminar, one-to-one coaching sessions, Online learning (audio and/or visual) print etc.)? Once the content has been planned and rendered to be available in broad terms, it will be made available through one or more delivery channels. This might be in a small or large workshop with lots of Q&A, seminar format, one to one or even via online learning. Each of these has its own characteristics which need careful consideration.
15. In what way do we want to appeal to people’s different learning styles? Individual learners usually have a bias for one or more learning styles. It is therefore useful to know not only which these are (where possible) but to design learning material which accommodates all of them-visual, auditory, or Kinesthetic.
16. Is a blended learning approach needed/required/beneficial? Blended learning means using similar learning content in two or more channels to help re-inform learning and help learners to apply it more effectively. This will depend on the learning subject, time, cost and other factors but should be considered to determine the value of this approach.
17. What use of learning delivery technology do we need to make use of/comply with/be compatible with? Technology is already widely used in learning/training and that offers choice to both trainers and learners. However, which of these technologies (including Computers, Tablets, Smart phones, Audio players etc.) needs to be considered at the earliest possible stage and the content rendered to fit or be compatible with this format if desired.
18. What does learning transfer success look like in tangible terms for all target audiences? Much like the first questions on this checklist, this last question takes the big picture view in asking what are we trying to achieve in tangible terms with this learning? However it adds not only what learning transfer success will look like but how we will know or measure this in every audience to whom it will apply.
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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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