How to start your planning process – From the topic to the learning outcomes and objective – Part 1 of the How to plan a training series

If you ever received a topic from a client and didn’t know where to start, this post is perfect for you! There are a million parts to cover, and your client has ambitious expectations. In this post, I will show you how to skip the panic and go straight from the topic to learning outcomes and objectives.

img_0977-2In the introduction to my ‘How to plan a training’ series, I introduced you to my four-step process on how I go from a training inquiry by a client to a ready to go training schedule. In this post, we will do a deep dive into the first step.

But before I want to address the elephant in the room. Most people use the terms outcomes and objectives interchangeable and often throw goals into the mix as well. Even in educational science literature, you can not find one consistent definition of these terms. To make this post as useful as possible and not to fall into the rabbit hole of this discussion, we will use the following two definitions.

“A learning outcome is a broader aim of an educational intervention. It does not seem necessary to describe a specific skill or knowledge. It can be covered through more than one objective.”

“An objective is a specific skill or knowledge that needs to be established to ensure a certain learning outcome.”

As we have this out of the way let’s start with part one of ‘How to plan a training’!

So, where do we start? For me, it all begins with an inquiry from a client or an organisation on the search for a trainer. Sometimes I also apply proactively for a training or workshop. In both cases, it is essential that you ask yourself, what can I contribute. Also, check if the client and the topic align with your interests and values. For me, nothing is worse than realising along the way that the expectation towards me as trainer and facilitator are not combinable with my practice and approach.

Next, you ask your client for a summary of the topic of the session and as much technical information as they can give you at that point. Relevant facts that you need to discuss as early as possible include time frame (on day or several days, how many sessions per date, …), venue (space for a circle of chair, small group work, …), aimed number of participants and eventual particular need, work alone or with a co-trainer or an expert and general context of the training (alone standing or part of a more extensive conference, parallel training, organisational relevance for your client…).

Once you received this information, you can start a first brainstorming phase. If you worked on that topic before, begin by listing what you can use from your past experiences. If you never worked on that topic, I recommend starting by looking for training manuals about that topic. I usually throw the following into Google “topic trainer manual pdf”. Don’t go too far at this point as you still have to sit with your client and discuss where she wishes to go with the training, but it lays a good foundation that will let you look even more professional.

IMG_0976The next step is to work with your clients on the learning outcomes. For this, you sit with her and walk through different thematic aspects of the training. I usually start from the organisational context of the training. What role does the topic play for the aims and objectives of the organisation and what shall come out of it? Regarding the topic itself, help her to break it down as specific as possible.

As an example, let’s say she asks you to facilitate a training on climate change for four days with three sessions per day. As long twelve sessions of each two hours feel like right now, they aren’t. One approach to breaking it down would be starting from the organisational context and aims. So let’s say in our example the client wants that the participants come up with awareness campaigns about displacement due to climate change. That give us already four learning outcomes:

  • Participants learn to plan awareness campaigns.
  • Participants discover social impacts of climate change.
  • Participants acquire knowledge regarding human displacement.
  • Participants explore effects of climate change.

From here I would look with the client which kind of participants she expects. If they would be mainly expert, another learning outcome could be “Participants develop solutions to displacement due to climate change.” or “Participants discuss possible stakeholders and their possible engagement in the fight against displacement due to climate change.”. If the participants are grass route activists or school students, the focus could be more on the causes of climate change and influencing factors.

The next steps are to work out the objectives that need to be achieved to ensure the learning outcomes agreed with your client. As we defined at the beginning, objectives are skills and knowledge that once acquired contribute to the fulfilment of one or several learning outcomes of training. Let’s say we look at the learning outcome “Participants discover social impacts of climate change.”. Objectives to reach this outcome could be:

  • Participants learn about the climate change and displacement.
  • Participants discuss the connection between weather phenomena and the livelihood of local communities.

These objectives still appear super vague and intangible. There are a million methods and approaches to formulating more successful and achievable objectives. Many of these theories usually are related to project management and corporate goal setting but can be translated into an educational context. I want to introduce you to two of these technics: SMART and CLEAR objectives.

The first one is SMART, which is also the best established and widely known approach. It’s an acronym standing for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Let’s take the objective from before “Participants learn about the climate change and displacement.”

SPECIFIC

The objective is quite general, and many things can be interpreted into it. Let’s try to reformulate it:

“Participants learn how climate change leads to human displacement.”

MEASURABLE

That’s more specific but can we measure if participants achieved this objective?

“Participants can name all causes for human displacement created through climate change.”

ACHIEVABLE

Can the participants achieve this objective within the framework of the training? Do they have all the resources and expertise they need? Let’s refine it all little further:

“Participants can name at least three causes for human displacement created through climate change.”

RELEVANT

Does the objective match the general context of the training? Does it play a role in the context of the participants? Which larger aims does it serve? Okay, one more try

“Participants can use their acquired knowledge about at least three causes for human displacement created through climate change to prepare an awareness campaign.”

TIMELY

A timely objective has a start and end date. If the training you are planning is a singular event, the time frame is apparent. Is the training is part of a multi-event project you can define the time frame in accordance to the likely need of the participants. So our final SMART objective would be:

“Within the training, participants can use their acquired knowledge about at least three causes for human displacement created through climate change to prepare an awareness campaign.”

The second technic is CLEAR. It’s an acronym as well and stands for collaborating, limited, emotional, appreciable and refinable. It’s mostly just in connection with Agile project management as it is seen as more flexible as SMART. Let’s take the same objective from before “Participants learn about the climate change and displacement.” through the CLEAR process.

COLLABORATING

Collaborating objects encourage the participants to cooperate in the quest to achieve it. Let’s adjust the objective accordingly:

“Participants discuss the connection between climate change and displacement.”

LIMITED

For CLEAR an objective needs to be limited in time and content. Therefore, you define a specific time frame in this step and also determine clearer what exactly you want your participants to achieve.

“Participants discuss effects of climate change that lead to human displacement in the framework of a 30-minute panel debate.”

EMOTIONAL

The objective needs to emotionally connect with the participants to tap into their energy and passion. One way to establish a personal connection to work with case studies of people in within the same age group or even an expert in this group.

“Participants discuss the effects of climate change that lead to human displacement in the framework of a 30-minute world cafe debate with youth from affected groups.”

APPRECIABLE

To make the objective perceptible its needs to be broken down into smaller parts that are faster achievable and contribute to the long-term goal. Let’s try to switch up our objectives once more.

“Participants map out concrete weather phenomena that lead to human displacement in a 30-minute session with youth from affected groups.”

REFINABLE

Finally, with CLEAR objectives need to re-evaluate during the process and modified as necessary. This does not lead to a refining of the objective before the training but challenges you keep an eye on them while you facilitate the sessions.

I have used SMART for most of my trainer practice but lately started to combine it with CLEAR. I find a combination of both boosted my objective setting process and simplified the creation of the learning journey, about which we will speak in the next part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series coming next November.

But before I let you go, I want to warn you of some risks and traps along the way. The most significant and most important is that you have to help your client to have more realistic expectations. There is so much you can put into a two-hour workshop, and that includes fixing the corruption of the pharma industry. 😉 It is further helpful to check in with your clients once you defined all objective to ensure you cover what they expect.

A small tip more for your personal life: You can use the technics of SMART and CLEAR to set goals for your life effectively. It helps you to set more realistic goals and to avoid the frustration when “I want to run a marathon tomorrow” did not work out.

I hope you could get something out of the post that helps you to improve your trainer practice. Feel free to leave me a comment if you disagree or have any question and it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

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Why you should do it non-formal – An introduction to Non-Formal Education

Every time someone introduces me as a trainer and uses the word ‘informal education’, I cringe. Every time a participant complains in the daily debrief about the lack of presentations and immediate solution, I sigh. Every time a client wishes a formal set up for the training and shows me an agenda full of speakers, I want to hold up a big sign “Non-formal education trainer here!”

There is a lot of confusion about the term non-formal education. Therefore, the assumptions and the expectations of the clients and participants don’t often match with the training I facilitate and the methods and approaches I practice. That impact very negatively their capacity to indeed witness and experience the potential and real benefits provided by those learning tools.

img_1008Did you see how I used to facilitate learning at the end of the last paragraph instead of to teach? That was a conscious choice as the words “to teach” and “teacher” are connected to a different form of education – formal education. The concept of formal education is universally known as we all were students taught by teachers in subjects we could not choose at schools we were obliged to go. This one sentence summarises pretty directly what is widely understood as formal education, but let me walk you through the different aspects bit by bit.

First, formal education always happened in a clearly described setting. There is the teacher who holds the knowledge authority and the student who receives that knowledge. The knowledge is defined through curricular and other regulating aspects.

Second, formal education learning is always held to a clear pre-defined standard and assessed based on the individual capacity of meeting the criteria of that standard. The focus of this educative method is, therefore, the outcome more than the learning itself. It globally does not factor in the individual circumstances of students.

Third, formal education to a certain degree is mandatory. In almost all countries of the world, the school attendance up to at least primary school is compulsory for all children. This factor does not mean that voluntary higher education, such as a university, does not fall into the concept of formal education. Once you are registered to enter higher education presence and participation are as mandatory as in primary school.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned another form of education – informal education. This form of learning can be described as learning by doing or learning through experience. It is often presented as the opposite to formal education as it is unplanned and not assessed nor monitored. It does not have a defined space but happens in everyday life. One typical example is, that when you as a child put your hand on the hot oven, you learned that it hurts to touch the hot oven. In some theories and definition also socialisation itself is considered informal learning as your family did not have a set curriculum in mind but shaped your behaviour through their own actions and norms.

So these two are pretty clear, right? So what is non-formal education? Let’s look at some official definitions.

“Education that is institutionalized, intentional and planned by an education provider. The defining characteristic of non-formal education is that it is an addition, alternative and/or a complement to formal education […]. It caters for people of all ages, but does not necessarily apply a continuous pathway-structure; […]. Non-formal education mostly leads to qualifications that are not recognized as formal qualifications […] or to no qualifications at all. […]” (UNESCO)

The UNESCO defines non-formal education through the lens of formal education. It sees it more as an offer alongside formal learning opportunities and as a tool for life-long learning. It considers it as a less efficient form of education, notably in term of outcomes.

“Non formal learning is purposive but voluntary learning that takes place in a diverse range of environments […] for which teaching/training and learning is not necessarily their sole or main activity. These environments […] may be temporarly, and the activities […] that take place may be staffed by professional learning facilitators […] or by volunteers […]. The activities and courses are planned, […] rarely […] assess learning outcomes […] in conventionally visible ways.” (Youthpass)

For the Youthpass the primary focus is on the voluntariness of the participation in non-formal education and informal of the setting. Nevertheless, it is structured and planned.

“Non-formal learning takes place outside formal learning environments but within some kind of organisational framework. It arises from the learner’s conscious decision to master a particular activity, skill or area of knowledge and is thus the result of intentional effort. But it need not follow a formal syllabus or be governed by external accreditation and assessment. Non-formal learning typically takes place in community settings […].” (Council of Europe)

In the Council of Europe’s definition, the focus is apparently on the learner itself. She consciously decides to participate in the learning process and put effort into the creation of a result.

All three definitions clearly place non-formal education outside the formal educational system. Nevertheless all state a planned and structured approach through some sort of facilitator. In two of them, the voluntary participation is a defining aspect. Further, the assessment of the learning outcomes is absent in all of them.

img_0657-1For me non-formal education is the space in which participants acknowledge their own expertise, learn how to connect it with their fellow learners and create solutions together. The most valuable takeaway in this process is the moment of self-awareness and growth. The methods I select are aiming to facilitate this process. It is not about me as a facilitator or my opinions. Therefore I believe a non-formal educator/trainer/facilitator does not need to be an expert on the topic of the session. She just needs to know how to create an experience that kickstarts the process and a frame to guide it in its natural flow. Therefore, it is necessary to continually adjust the planned learning journey to the needs and aims of the learner.

So now we know what I understand as non-formal education. Thank you for sticking with me through this long post. But before I let you go, I briefly want to speak about when and where we can use non-formal education.

The approach of non-formal education is universal and can (and should) be used wherever learning happens. Most of the tools of the formal education only benefit a small part of the learners, and the focus on standardised outcomes does not give the individual development of one learner the validation it deserves. Therefore, I advocate for the introduction of non-formal education within our school system, university and even the corporate work world. How far could innovation go, if we were able to harvest the expertise of each and every one in the room!

I hope this journey into a more theoretical background did not just give you some insights into your own learning but also inspires you to discover the world of non-formal education further. As always leave your comments and questions below and I would really appreciate if you like and share this post!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka