Tip #626:  When an Overview is NOT an Overview

“Once you get the right image, the details aren’t that important.” Abbie Hoffman

According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online, “overview” is defined as “a short description of something that provides general information but no details.” Vocabulary.com further defines “overview” as “a general summary of something. An overview gives the big picture, while leaving out the minor details.”

I am currently revising a three-hour lesson plan for a client that they have termed an “overview.” The content is studded with details that range from general procedures to specific forms, time frames and deadlines.

The client wants new hires to be aware of program activities that occur upstream of their job assignments. The new hires will not be involved in the conduct of these activities. So why would the lesson designer include so many details?

The answer is actually very simple and has to do with two basic issues: (1) a subject matter expert (SME) designed the lesson and (2) no one thought to specify the key content appropriate for new hires.

Let’s look at each issue in turn. First, the SME lives and breathes these program activities. As a result, the SME naturally considers everything about the activities to be vitally important and wants to make sure the new hires know all of it.

Second, no one advised the SME to step back and be objective about what content would actually be relevant to the target audience.

Rather than providing all of the details, the big picture would probably answer these basic questions:

  1. What are the activities?
  2. Who initiates them?
  3. When and why are they initiated?
  4. Who performs the activities?
  5. What are the results of the activities?

And most importantly,

  1. Why is this information relevant to the new hires?

If the answer to question #6 is that the information will give the new hires a sense of where they fit within a process, then no further content is necessary.

So I am going to eliminate unnecessary details to focus on providing content that answers these questions.

On another note, I’ve noticed that trainers often justify using a lecture because they are only giving an “overview.” That is certainly true in the case of this lesson plan.

But even when the intention is to provide information, lecture is not the only training method that will suffice. There are any number of other more effective and engaging learning activities that will enable the new hires to learn the content.

For example, they can be given reference materials about the program activities and then, working independently, in pairs or in groups, assigned to:

  • fill in the blanks in sentences with information relevant to specific program activities;
  • match descriptions to program activities;
  • complete a table that has columns for the six questions mentioned earlier;
  • answer a multiple choice quiz;
  • determine if they agree or disagree with statements about each program activity;
  • create a flow chart or decision tree that indicates when specific program activities occur;
  • participate in an open discussion about how each program activity relates to their new jobs; and/or
  • identify which program activity relates to different scenarios; etc.

The trainer would debrief the activities and provide additional information where necessary, so I’m not suggesting that the trainer would be superfluous. The trainer would simply take on a facilitative role.

It won’t be possible to use all of these learning activities because there is only a three-hour time slot available for this overview session. I anticipate incorporating three learning activities, most likely the table completion as a paired activity, fill-in-the blanks as an individual activity, and the scenarios as a small group activity to check their comprehension.

How do you handle overview sessions?

May your learning be sweet.


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