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

2 thoughts on “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

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