How do we decide what degree of difficulty or complexity of content is appropriate for our learners? Our needs assessment will have to determine:
- Who is the target audience?
- What general content needs to be covered?
- What will our learners be expected to do once they leave the training session?
- What is their current level of skill or knowledge in this content area?
- What post-training reinforcement is available to the participants?
The answers to these questions will help us to decide what level of complexity in the content is necessary and appropriate. For example, suppose that we determine that our learners will be expected to independently perform a responsibility that is entirely new to them. We will know then that we have to start simply with the basics and gradually increase the degree of difficulty and complexity of knowledge and applied practice to the point that they have learned and demonstrated all of the necessary skills to perform that responsibility.
On the other hand, suppose that the general content is a series of changes to a procedure with which the learners are already very familiar and that their supervisor will reinforce their performance back on the job. In this case, there is a limited degree of difficulty and complexity, since the key outcome is that the learners become familiar with and understand the changes. The real application of their new learning will occur on the job, not in the classroom.
It is really a simple mathematical equation, in which we subtract what they already can do (the answer to question #4) from what they will be expected to do (the answer to question #5). The remainder is what they will need to learn.
Clearly, this is not a situation where one size fits all. If we want to be effective trainers, we must have answers to these questions and the flexibility to tailor the content to meet the learners’ needs.