Building Bridges

The Pick of the Crop

Have you ever gone berry picking? Usually, you fill a container and pay by its size. Those juicy berries look so appealing you want to fit as many as possible into the container, right? Would you squish them in to get more? Or would you select the ripest berries to ensure excellent quality and highest satisfaction?

So, what happens if you try to pack too much content into your learning event? While perhaps not as messy as overstuffing berries, it’s not a pretty sight either.  As training professionals, we are often caught between (a) advocating for the appropriate amount of time needed to result in effective learning and (b) the time that management is willing to make available for training. This often happens because organizations are running pretty lean, and missing employees for a few hours or days can impact production or the customer experience. Sometimes there is the added opportunity cost of billable time or direct cost for overnights that result in hotel and meal expenses. If effective learning requires six hours but the training “container” only holds two hours, how can we reconcile this? Do we stuff more in or pick the best, given the size of the container?

Here are three ways that instructional designers can address time constraints while helping to ensure the learners are prepared to do their jobs effectively.

#1. Have an honest conversation with stakeholders and share with them how people learn best.

Reinforce that learners need to be exposed to various methods for taking in information and they consolidate their knowledge by practicing skills in activities such as role plays, re-enactments, diagram creation, or troubleshooting. Part of the process is to receive feedback along the way and debrief at the end. This process cannot be rushed.

#2. If it is absolutely necessary to shorten the training prioritize the learning objectives and design training that focuses on supporting the most important behavior changes at work. We recommend the resulting lessons be ones that will help the learners perform the most frequent tasks that are most critical and could result in greatest risk if done incorrectly.

If, let’s say, only two hours are allocated for what would normally be a six-hour course, the instructional designer should work with the stakeholders to determine the highest-priority skills for the learners to perform effectively. This applies for any training, including performance management, compliance, and product sales and service.

#3. Keep in mind that learning can be maximized, and time away from work minimized, with the right design and blend of learning modalities.

Creating a blended learning approach, rather than relying solely on traditional classroom training, for example, can help streamline the learning process. It also lowers time away from work since travel time may be reduced and, often, the overall course “seat time” can be trimmed down.

We recommend that training include ways for the learners to immediately apply skills learned in class on the job. One such method is a practice known as “action learning.” This provides a structured way for the learner to solve a real-work problem on the job, then reflect on his or her learnings.

For a course on process management, EnVision recently incorporated an action learning approach, which proved helpful to the learners. “Action learning was very valuable, because we went from theory to practice,” said one learner. “The time for reflection and processing between sessions was valuable,” said another.

Increasingly, companies rely on training tools that can be accessed “on demand” to incorporate training into the workday. “On-demand training, such as virtual reference guides and ‘bite-sized’ training modules, can give you the ability to offer immediate and effective training to employees when they need it the most.” (

Try using the above approaches to align with your stakeholders and focus your training, given the resources or “berry containers” you have. Throughout the process, keep in mind the learning objectives vital to improving employee performance. And help your learners enjoy fewer, but more satisfying, berries!