A steely Edwardian writer once gave this advice to his self-indulgent peers:
Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
Decades later, William Faulkner abbreviated it to “kill your darlings”; healthy advice for any writer and for instructional designers or training content developers. It wisely tells us to put aside what we want to say and focus instead on what’s useful to the audience.
More to Do, Less to Read
Minimalism brings great value to the training experience. Developing learning content following the less-is-more approach allows trainers to start immediately on meaningfully realistic tasks and reduces the amount of reading and other passive activity. In short, people are trained more efficiently and contributing productively in less time.
Easier Said Than Done?
It’s tempting for a writer to include certain elements in training content due to many factors: deep involvement in the subject; a kitchen-sink approach is faster than paring down to the essentials; or plain old client – and supervisor – pressure.
But a minimalist approach has serious rewards for trainers:
- Learning-friendly seat times
- Satisfied trainees who learn just what they need to
- No unnecessary writing, development, or review time
- Better training outcomes
- Higher odds of reaching business goals
Here’s what an effective minimalist approach looks like for training:
Step 1: Form learning objectives around end goals.
Step 2: Identify and remove anything that doesn’t directly serve those objectives.
This method keeps the training focused on the learner and, more importantly, helps settle disagreements about what is actually necessary to achieve results.
Keep the Muscle, Lose the Fat
Here are some tips for keeping training fat-free:
- Prioritize. Identify the most important aspects of the training and showcase those. Minimize or eliminate the rest, so critical information doesn’t get buried.
- Create well-thought-out learning objectives. Obtain the project team’s buy-in. Sticking to objectives provides the discipline needed to prevent over-teaching and gold plating. For example, if designing a software training – do learners need to know the whole system to do their job effectively, or can the objectives focus on a handful of key features?
- Know your learners. Investigate the learning audience. Visit them on the job, talk to them on the phone, and conduct user tests – nothing reveals the unnecessary parts like user feedback and observation.
- Respect your learners. Avoid the impulse to spoon-feed – let learners think for themselves. For example, try Cathy Moore’s method of scenario-based assessments when writing test questions. Using this provides real-world outcomes instead of simple right/wrong feedback, and allows learners to see the results of their decisions and draw their own conclusions.
- Build on a learner’s experience. First, remove anything they already know. Second, help learners use their existing knowledge to solve problems related to the new skills they’ll learn.
One last thing: Don’t kill all your darlings. People often confuse minimalist with short, but brevity alone doesn’t guarantee effective training, and you may end up omitting important stuff. Think lean, and keep what’s most important to maximize knowledge retention – and results.
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