Skip to content

I Have to Teach Something—Where Do I Start?

10-04 Vasona Path

Temptation: Start gathering content. But instead, let’s make sure there is a need for what we’re teaching (needs assessment). This can happen faster than you think.

  1. Is it important? To whom? The individual, the organization (of whatever size), maybe the community (also of whatever size)?
    In other words, why do we care?
    This sounds impertinent, but we need the answer. Just ask tactfully.
    Make sure that the time, expense, and effort to learn something is worth it. We don’t want to solve a $10 problem with a $150 solution.
  2. What’s the delta? Where do we want to be vs. where are we now? For example:
    • Where we want to be: Our customer service reps ask for the order
      Where we are now: Our reps do not initiate requests for customer orders
      Who cares? Loss of $XXK revenue per quarter
      Potential upside: Estimated increases in sales of $XXK per quarter
    • Where we want to be: Our 2d graders can tell time using analog clocks
      Where we are now: They can only tell time using digital clocks
      Who cares? They could be late for class, miss the bus, be embarrassed…
      Potential upside: They can tell time even when the only clock is analog
    • Where we want to be: Recent retirees feel they are living a meaningful life
      Where we are now: Some retirees feel that they are just floating from activity to activity, with no real plan or purpose
      Who cares? Some retires feel a loss of self-esteem, sense of well-being
      Potential upside: Given a sense of purpose, seniors may live longer. They will feel better about their days. They have a lot of wisdom and expertise they can contribute in areas that interest them.
    In other words, there’s room for improvement, and the improvement will matter.
  3. Do they know how to do this already? Could they do it now, if their lives depended on it? If so, can they do it fast enough, efficiently enough, and well enough? Could they do it with a job aid, if they had a good one handy?
    We don’t want to teach or train people to do stuff that they can do already.
    In other words, don’t waste time and resources.
    Sometimes people know how to do things, but they aren’t doing them. Training won’t fix that. We’ll have to figure out that else is the matter and make a recommendation to fix that, instead.
  4. How will we know if we are successful? The answer to this question is related to why this is important and the delta that you noted earlier.
    Figure this part out early: it’s much easier at the beginning. Make sure that your boss and/or sponsor agree about what success looks like. For example:
    Customer service reps: They are asking for an order during 70% of their calls. Revenue from those calls has increased by $XXK, or XX%.
    Second graders: They can tell time using an analog clock: 90% of them can tell us the correct time (with 5-minutes’ leeway) 90% of the time.
    Retirees: Based on a self-report survey delivered 3 months post-training, our learners report that they feel a sense of purpose and are contributing in a way that they find meaningful.
    In other words, did we solve the problem or take advantage of an opportunity?

So, to get started teaching something, you’ll want to confirm that it’s important enough to invest the effort and that training will help. You’ll also want to figure out what you will accept as evidence that the training has satisfied a need. After that, and partly at the same time, you’ll also want to learn more about your audience, the content, and the context within which you’ll train them.

Disclosure: Some links on this site are “affiliate links,” which means that I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something.