How To Create an Effective Training Program: 8 Steps to Success

Workforce Training that Really Works in 8 Steps

Nearly everyone recognizes the value and benefits of workforce training. When done properly, training can make workers more efficient — increasing production, revenue, and profits while decreasing costs, waste, and inefficiencies. Effective training can lead to increased compliance with regulations. It can even lead to a happier, more satisfied workforce, which in turn reduces turnover and costly onboarding. So the benefits are many.

But creating effective training isn’t easy. Some common problems include creating training that doesn’t support a true business goal, or for a problem that training can’t fix, or without first identifying the true purpose of the training, or that includes too much information. Or maybe all of those things.

So, how does one create effective workforce training materials? Below is an eight-step road map to help you create more effective training materials. Entire books have been written about each of these steps, so there’s far more to say than what’s written below. But this article should serve as an effective getting-started guide in your quest to create workforce training materials that actually work.

Beyond that, we’ve added some notes in the conclusion of this blog to get you thinking in a “what’s next?” manner, including a link to the famous book Leaving ADDIE for SAM, a link to a Training Maximizers post by Dr. Will Thalheimer that I very much admire, and some links to articles on performance support/job aids and the 70/20/10 model of learning.

Step 1: Perform a Training Needs Assessment

Step 1: Perform a Training Needs Assessment

Imagine someone at work perceives a problem and thinks a new training program might resolve it. For example, maybe the production manager says that her workers need to be more efficient and create more units of a product. Before anyone rushes off, creates training materials, and conducts the training, it’s a good idea to take a step back and assess the situation. That’s what the training needs assessment is for.

The basic training needs assessment is a four-step process. Those steps are:

  • Identify a clear business goal that the training supports
  • Determine the tasks the workers need to perform so the company can reach that goal
  • Determine the training activities that will help the workers learn to perform the tasks
  • Determine the learning characteristics of the workers that will make the training more effective

Sounds simple enough, but let’s break those four steps down a bit more.

Identify the business goal:

Don’t provide training if it’s not clear why you’re doing it, or if it doesn’t directly support a business goal. Business goals include things like increasing revenue and efficiency, decreasing costs and waste, supporting a new product, teaching a new or changed production process, or complying with regulations. For example, a business goal might be to train employees to create a new product.

Determine the tasks workers need to perform:

Once you’ve identified the business goal, ask yourself what your employees have to do if the company is to reach that goal. During this phase, you’ll identify the “performance gap” between what your workers can do now, and what they must be able to do. To keep with our new product example, the workers might need to know what the new product is, how the product is produced, and (most importantly) the tasks the workers must perform on the job to make the product.

Determine the training activities that will help workers learn to perform the tasks:

You’ve identified what the workers need to do, so now you have to identify the training activities that will help them learn to do those tasks. To continue our example, this may include a quick and short explanation of the product, an equally quick and short overview of the production process, and demonstrations mixed with hands-on practice of the tasks they’ll have to perform on the job.

Determine characteristics of workers that will make the training more effective:

Finally, consider the characteristics of your workers to determine the type of training that will be most effective for them. In a perfect world, you’d cater training to each individual, but that’s not always possible and you may have to consider the average characteristics of the group as a whole. Consider these kind of things: are they more comfortable with computer-based training or instructor-led training; do they like self-guided or self-paced learning, or would they struggle in that environment; are they youngish or older; are there cultural issues that may factor in; do they learn better from reading, listening, or doing; etc. And because it’s hard to create one-size training that fits all, consider training that blends different aspects so you’ve got a better chance of reaching everyone.

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Step 2: Keep Adult Learning Principles in Mind

Step 2: Keep Adult Learning Principles in Mind

You could argue this step is already addressed at the end of step 1 or will factor into later steps, and you’d be right. But it’s important enough to call it out on its own.

The workers you want to train are adults, and adults share certain characteristics that that make training more effective for them (or less effective if you ignore the characteristics). If your training recognizes and respects these adult learning principles, it’s likely to be more effective. If your training disregards these principles, you’re throwing training money out the door from the word “go.”

So what are these principles? Adult learners:

  • Are self-directed
  • Come to training with a lifetime of existing knowledge, experience, and opinions
  • Are goal-oriented
  • Want training that is relevant
  • Want training that is task-oriented
  • Learn when they see “what’s in it for them”
  • Want to be and feel respected

You can see how these principles relate to the learner characteristics you identified during your training needs assessment. And you can imagine how they should affect your training during design and delivery. Remember the old saying that “you can tune a piano but you can’t tune a fish?” Well, if you ignore adult learning principles, you’ll be trying to tune fish all day long.

Step 3: Develop Learning Objectives

Step 3: Develop Learning Objectives

Before you begin creating any training, it’s critical that you create a list of learning objectives.

Learning objectives are a list of things the workers must be able to do after the training is completed. They are the “North Star” that all aspects of your training should be pointed at. Once you’ve created your learning objectives, create content that covers the objectives—and nothing but. In addition, any quizzes, tests, case studies, or hands-on exercises performed during training to evaluate your worker’s comprehension of the training should assess only the workers’ understanding of the objectives. And finally, any observation of workers when they’re back on the job to evaluate the effectiveness of the training should also focus on the performance of these objectives.

To (intentionally) overstate the point, learning objectives are the end-all and be-all of your training. Without objectives, you’ve got an out-of-control car without a driver.

There’s a lot to be said about learning objectives (and even more to be said); we’ve included a few tips below.

They Can Address Knowledge, Skills, or Attitudes (KSAs):

A learning objective may address things that your learners can “know,” such as how product flows through a machine; skills that your learner’s can perform, such as threading materials into a machine; and attitudes that your employees can hold, such as the importance of threading materials into a machine properly in order to create the best possible product.

Make them SMART:

When you write an objective, it should have five characteristics, known collectively by the acronym SMART. The objective should be specific, meaning it’s very clearly stated and its meaning is equally apparent to everyone. It should be measurable, meaning everyone can agree if the learner satisfies it or not. It should be achievable, meaning the learner truly has a chance to satisfy it. It should be relevant, meaning it’s important for the worker’s job. And it should be time-bound, meaning it will be clear when the learner must be able to satisfy the objective (typically, after training).

Give them four parts (ABCD):

A learning objective should include four parts, which you can remember with the letters ABCD. It should include an actor who will perform the objective (the employees you’re training). It should include a behavior that the actor must perform (this behavior should be stated as a verb that defines the workers’ behavior, such as “recite” or “turn”). It should include conditions under which the employees must perform the behavior (for example, “given a wrench, the employee must…”). And it should include the degree to which the employee must perform the behavior (for example, “90 times an hour”).

Download our free, extensive guide to creating learning objectives.

Step 4: Design Training Materials

Step 4: Design Training Materials

Designing training materials is like planning a dinner party, coming up with a menu, and writing the recipes. It’s the “plan before you do” phase of training creation.

While you’re designing your materials, keep the following points in mind:

  • Remember that it’s important to design before you rush into the next step (development)
  • Always focus primarily on the learning needs of your employees, and not on what’s easy for your trainers
  • Only create training content and assessments that relate directly to your learning objectives
  • Remember the adult learning principles
  • Include as much hands-on practice or simulation as possible: people learn by doing
  • Whenever possible, put the employees in control of the learning process (instead of the trainer)
  • Do everything possible to let the employees talk and interact with the trainer and with each other during the training
  • Make sure there’s plenty of opportunity for feedback during training
  • Break your training materials up into small “chunks” that are easier to take in and understand
  • Order your “chunked” training materials in a logical manner—one step that builds on top of another, or chronologically, etc.
  • Try to use a “blended learning” approach that includes training in several different formats (computer-based, instructor-led, etc.).
  • Try to appeal to a variety of your workers’ senses during training—sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste (when appropriate and not dangerous). Sight is by far the most important sense for learning, but adding the others when possible does help.

The book Design for How People Learn, by Julie Dirksen, is a great resource for more information about this step.

We’ve also pulled together the following links related to designing effective training materials for you:

Step 5: Develop Your Training Materials

Step 5: Develop Your Training Materials
Once you’ve got your training materials designed, now’s the time to roll up your sleeves and start developing them. It’s like you’ve written a recipe and are ready to cook the meal.

You may create a variety of training materials using several different tools during this step. Here’s a look at a few options:

  • Word, Excel, and similar “Office” programs to create handouts for employees and to create training outlines and notes for the instructor of any instructor-led components
  • Materials for hands-on elements and/or role-playing elements of the training
  • PowerPoint for in-class projections and/or handouts to deliver to employees. Beware of PowerPoint presentations that are nothing but screen after screen of bullet points, however.
  • Flip-charts, posters, transparencies, and/or computer-generated graphics for presenting visual materials during training
  • E-learning authoring tools such as Articulate Studio and Storyline or Adobe Captivate for creating computer-based e-learning modules

These are just a few ideas. Be creative and mix and match these to best fit the employees’ training needs. While creating materials, always keep in mind two primary concerns: (1) the things that will help your employees learn most effectively and (2) the learning objectives.

This blog, by Connie Malamed, has lots of great tips on developing training materials.

We’ve also pulled together these articles related to training material development:

You may also want to consider partnering with a training provider for off-the-shelf or custom training materials.

Step 6: Implement the Training

Step 6: Implement the Training

If designing is like writing a recipe, and developing is like cooking the meal, then this phase is setting the table, ringing the dinner bell, and eating the food.

It may seem obvious, but one of the most critical things you’ll have to do in this phase is inform the employees that will attend the training. Give them plenty of time in advance so that they can work it into their schedules and complete any necessary pre-training preparation.

One thing to keep in mind is that a learning management system (LMS) can play a big role in helping you during this step. An LMS is a software application used assign, deliver, track, and report on training. If you use an LMS at work, it’s easy for your employees to log in and see the list of training they’ve been assigned. Many learning management systems even include notification systems that send emails to the workers when new assignments are made or due dates are approaching. In short, an LMS can automate a lot of the clerical, scheduling, and notification procedures you’d have to do yourself in this step (and they do a lot more than that, too).

In addition, you may also have to do things like inform the workers’ supervisor, reserve rooms for training, buy any necessary supplies, work through any scheduling or traveling logistics, and perhaps even have food and drinks available. Get your ducks in order in advance, so your training goes off as smoothly as possible.

Moving forward to the actual training, the implementation can take a variety of forms. It may be classroom instruction; practice opportunities such as role-playing exercises, focus groups, case studies, or small group assignments; on-the-job skills-based training; the delivery of paper-based hand-outs for individual reading and study; the completion of e-learning modules on a computer; a combination of some or all of these; or more.

If your training includes an on-the-job skills-based component, make sure you know exactly what the employees must do to demonstrate competence. Define this in advance, when you’re creating your learning objectives, and don’t leave it unstated or vague.

If your training includes a classroom instruction component, there are a number of things you can do to make this more productive. Although the key things involve letting the employees be active participants instead of passive and bored listeners, more mundane things like room temperature, lighting, table and chair set-up, visual aids, and the instructor’s presentation style also play a role. There are a number of good books and websites that can you help you with this; the American Society for Training & Development’s website is a good place to start looking.

Here are some additional articles related to training delivery and management:

Download our free LMS Buyer’s Guide Checklist.

Here’s a quick two-minute overview of a learning management system (LMS).

Step 7: Evaluate the Training

Step 7: Evaluate the Training

It’s easy to provide training to workers, pat yourself on the back, and think you’re done. But if you do, you’ve put your cart before your horse.

If your goal is to deliver effective training that changes your worker’s behavior on the job—and this SHOULD be your goal—then you need to confirm that the training was effective. The standard way to do this is to use Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation.

As you may have guessed, this method involves evaluating the effectiveness of your training at four different levels. Those four evaluations are:

Employees’ reaction to training:

Did the employees like the training? Did they feel like they learned? You can find this out by observing the employees during training, asking their opinions, or handing out surveys. You can hand out paper-based surveys after training if you want, but you may get better results if the survey is online and anonymous. Survey Monkey provides free online tools to help you do this.

Employees’ actual learning:

Assessments during the training should evaluate the employees’ actual learning of the objectives. This might include simple tests for knowledge issues, or case studies, job simulations, or hands-on exercises for skills and attitudes.

Employee’s post-training job behavior:

Are the workers taking the new knowledge/skills/attitudes from training and applying them at work where it counts? Observations of the employees’ on-the-job work behavior will determine this, as will other performance-based metrics.

Quantifiable business results:

Did the training result in reaching the desired business goal (i.e., did revenues rise, did costs decrease, was the new product manufactured properly, or were workplace incidents reduced)?

After you’ve performed these four levels of evaluation, you may determine that the training was as effective as you hoped, or even more. If so, congratulations and job well done. Now you can pat yourself on the back. On the other hand, these evaluations may show that your training wasn’t all you hoped it would be. If so, it’s time to revise the training and get things up to snuff.

Readers with long memories may have read about Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation and felt the familiar tingle of déjà vu. If so, that’s because Kirkpatrick’s four levels map directly to the four steps of the training needs analysis described at the beginning of this article. Check it out for yourself in the table below.

KIRKPATRICK’S FOUR LEVELS OF EVALUATION STEPS OF TRAINING NEEDS ASSESSMENT
Employees’ reaction Did the employees like the training?
Employees’ learning Did the employees learn from the training?
Employees’ post-training job behavior Are employees performing desired tasks on the job?
Quantifiable business results Was the business goal reached?

Readers “in the know” may also know that the classic Kirkpatrick Training Evaluation model has been updated a bit lately. Click to read about the updated New World Kirkpatrick Model from the Kirkpatricks themselves.

 

Step 8: Rinse, Lather, and Repeat Any Step When Necessary

Step 8: Rinse, Lather, and Repeat Any Step When Necessary

You may have to return to different parts of this 8-step process in the future for a number of reasons. As mentioned above, one would be if your original training proved to be ineffective at any of the four levels. But you may have to do it again if you get new employees or if the work process changes.

But that’s no cause for panic. Now that you know the method, just work your way through. If you made some errors the first time—maybe you misjudged your employee’s learning needs, misidentified the learning objectives, provided too much information during training, put too little information into job aids, or held an instructor-led training that was dominated by the instructor—just go back and do it better the next time.

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Conclusion

So there you have it. Does training have an important role at the workplace? Absolutely. But it can’t solve every problem, and its effectiveness depends on how it’s designed, developed, and implemented. If you follow the eight steps listed above, you’ll find that your training programs will be much more effective, leading to an increased training ROI, happier employees, and the attainment of key business goals.

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that there’s a LOT more to be said on this topic. For example, while this article presents the steps of training development progressing in a linear, “waterfall” method, training developers today often depart from this for various reasons (for example, see the book Leaving ADDIE for SAM by Michael Allen).

Another interesting way to approach this issue is captured in a model created by Dr. Will Thalheimer that I very much like. He calls it his “training maximizers”–check that out at the Training Maximizers article on the Will at Work blog.

You’ll also find that sometimes training isn’t the best solution. Instead, there are lots of cases when you would be better off preparing performance support/job aids for workers.

And finally, you’ll also notice that formal training like the stuff we talked about in this article is best considered as part of a “blended learning solution” that also includes and facilitates experiential learning and social learning. Read about that here in our introduction to 70/20/10.

Anything else we should have added? We haven’t mentioned microlearning, or scenario-based learning, or social learning, or spaced practice, or a variety of other things yet. Please leave a comment below!

And feel free to check out our libraries of online workforce training courses. They’re all ready to go in handy SCORM and AICC formats for immediate importing into a learning management system (LMS).

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How to Write Learning Objectives

All the basics about writing learning objectives for training materials.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. Jeff has worked in education/training for more than twenty years and in safety training for more than ten. You can follow Jeff at LinkedIn as well.

75 thoughts on “How To Create an Effective Training Program: 8 Steps to Success

  1. Great piece of writing and tips for someone like me doing research on training effectiveness in the South African Public ervice

    1. Thanks, Solly, for the kind words. We’re glad you found this helpful and hope you’ve found some of the other articles helpful as well. Let us know if there are other topics you’re researching. Otherwise, have a great day.

  2. I’m at the beginning stages of creating a training program for my dispatch center on stress management. This information is just what I was looking for!

    1. Dave, that’s great, and it’s also great to hear. Thanks for letting us know, it helps us know what kind of content to provide.

      Also, keep your eyes on the blog, because we’re currently working on creating an expanded version of this article in a downloadable guide (more than 30 pages).

      Thanks again and good luck to you.

  3. Jeffrey – can you send me an email when the downloadable guide is ready. We employ interns during the summer, and I give them projects that include meaningful safety training that incorporates some of the principals noted above. I’d like to give them the downloadable guide (and make use of it myself).
    Thank you,
    Steve Markowitz, Director of Risk Control, Sterlingrisk

  4. I totally loved all the information based on training. Especially the part based on chunking it made me realise that it is very importation to break down information in order for people to absorb it easier. And that it is always important to start with the easier part information that people have knowledge to in order to create that intrest. Then later go to the most difficult part

  5. Thank you for doing this job since i have found it helpful in my resuch work in KISII UNIVERSITY IN KENYA AND MOST IMPORTANT IT HAS LEFT ME A BETTER MANAGER OF A JOB IN AN INSTITUTION ONCE AM DONE WITH MY STUDIES.thanks once again.

  6. Thanks for the article, It really useful, I am creating a content on employee effectiveness and team building at workplace, Would you support me in that or can provide any information regarding the same.

    Thanks!!

    Lokesh Gupta

  7. Nice article. I think the first step i.e need analysis is the most important to create high efficiency training courses .

  8. Thanks Jeffrey Dalto for such a wonderful article regarding HR function of Training and Development. It would help me to design a perfect Training program in my career.

  9. I came across your blog when preparing for an interview for a training coordinator role in food manufacturing. It was exactly what I was looking for, a structured approach to training. I will definitely refer to your page in the future! My goal is to create a training program that will make people excited to learn and boost confidence. Thanks for this clear and comprehensive post.

      1. Thank you Jeff,
        I’m working in Aguascalientes, it is near where you lived.
        Currently as risk prevention.
        SAFETY FIRST, SAFETY LAST, SAFETY ALWAYS.

        Regards,
        Ray Palmeros

        1. Oh yeah, I’ve never been there but I know where it is.

          I ALSO once lived in Sayulita, north of Puerto Vallarta, even a little closer to where you are now.

          Well, nice to meet you. Have a good one.

  10. A near-complete Training Guideline for the Trainers which is sure to benefit any Trainer, be it a Budding, Practicing or even a Senior One. The principles described have been presented in an easily understandable, lucid style which makes it an interesting and refreshing reading. Thanks for your concern for developing the Training Fraternity. Please continue your services with still further relevant and newer materials. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks, Ameer.

      As for creating more/newer stuff, you may be interested in our just-published article on scenario-based learning, and a recent one on big learning data.

      Scenario-based: https://www.convergencetraining.com/blog/using-scenario-based-learning-for-manufacturing-training

      Big Learning Data: https://www.convergencetraining.com/blog/big-data-and-big-learning-data-in-manufacturing

      Past, Present, Future of Manufacturing Training: https://www.convergencetraining.com/blog/manufacturing_training_past_present_future

  11. Very interesting, I am recent into training and this has been a useful link. Does anyone know of any companies that can produce the training content, I am find I have very little time as quite busy , so this would help me move things for my clients.

      1. I have just looked at your link to your site, I think it is very impressive. I would be interested in representing the product however your field is limited to certain areas. For example there is no programs on sales, as my market is in great need for soft skill training I see this as having greater potential. Another point is, in respect to the audio, local language is better and so can we dub over the audio. Perhaps a skype call would help. Please advise.
        My skype is alexgehales

        Thanks

  12. Beautiful piece, it was so helpful to me as I have been conducting trainings but leaving somehere important bits and pieces that you have highlighted here. Your piece can see a trainer through a training program successfully. Thanks.

  13. A good piece of work which is of paramount importance to people like me who wants to prepare a training programme. Thank you very much Jeffrey you did a wonderful job.

  14. Great article, I got a lot from it. i have a better insight on putting together my training package for my company.

  15. I liked the design very insightful; I would have added a brief writing assessment for the learners to measure their level of comprehension! to make sure they have a superficial understanding.

  16. Good Job Dalto,

    Highly considered topic even for trainers that have spent decades in the field, one more thing could be added to those beneficial steps which is ” After Course Communication” term ; I used to collect my trainees in an optional group like any social group to share any news, regulations & legislation updates and to help as a team in addressing some of job related problems that may seem to be new for somebody and not for others. Through my experience in this strategy I obtained:

    1. Long term effective team work form.
    2. A network of professionals each can contact with all or some of the team members all the times.
    3. Deep trust in the trainer vision of following up & delivering his knowledge to his trainees out of the course period.
    4. Most of the times this technique resulted in a good social relationships, the guys arrange for home visits, going shopping and sharing sports..etc.

    Again thanks Jeff for this topic hope you the best always.

    Basil Abu Asi
    QHSE Specialist
    Jordan

  17. This has been so helpful JEFFREY DALTO.. was given an assighnment in desighning a training programe for teachers, i didnt even know where to start from but after reading this article, my mind is open and ready to do it. Thank you!

  18. I am developing a safety training module for employees working in mining sector.
    Excellent article, must compliment you. The note on adult learning is very apt, for experienced workers

  19. Thanks Jeffrey for this article. It’s a must read for any Training professional tasked with building a program from scratch. I’m relatively new to the Training Department, but have spent 20 plus years in the Paper Industry in Technical/Operations roles. Many mills and companies are preparing for a wave of retirements and having a robust training program is paramount.

  20. Thank you a lot for sharing the awesome post. Very easy to memorize, one can apply the tips very conveniently, while creating a training program.

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