You too can be an instructional designer!

While most of my clients have competent training departments, few have instructional designers, those who analyze the training needs, determine content, and select the instructional methods and media.  This is a difficult job that requires some educational background and understanding of adult learning principles.

Some years ago when I worked for a training firm, one of our designers left and we advertised for a replacement. I thought our ad was clear, but we got dozens of responses from people whose resumes showed a strong background in graphic design.  Clearly, they didn’t understand what the job entailed. The instructional designer is NOT the person who creates the training materials, graphics and PowerPoint presentations.

One of my clients, a designer herself, told me that when a request for new training comes into her department, most of her people begin by writing a course map.  This is not design either, as it omits the critical upfront analysis process.

But the fact is that many companies design their own programs and do so very quickly, because they haven’t the time and resources to use a complete design process, and often the training need has come up suddenly and with urgency.  Over time I’ve learned that if I want to eat, I need to help clients create the most effective design within these constraints.

If you find yourself with the responsibility of creating a new training program for your company and you are not a designer, you may wish to read everything you can about Robert Gagne, who in 1965 published a book, “The Conditions of Learning.” In that book, Gagne offered a nine-step process he called “the events of instruction.”  When I design any program, I always compare it with Gagne’s nine events to ensure that I’ve included the critical learning steps.

Here they are, and in this and future posts, I’ll share ideas, stories and experiences I’ve had in incorporating these events into my own programs.

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

  1. Gain the learners’ attention
  2. Inform the learners of the objectives
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning
  4. Present the learning content
  5. Provide learning guidance
  6. Elicit performance
  7. Provide feedback
  8. Assess performance
  9. Enhance retention and transfer of the learning to the job.

Let’s examine step one today, “gain the learners’ attention.”  Many trainers think of this as the “icebreaker”, where you get the learners “warmed up” and enthusiastic about the training, and that does have some attention-getting elements to it, but I would like to think of this step as taking place much earlier than, “Okay everybody listen up!” 

If you worked for Acme Company and knew you were “selected” to go to a training program, what would be more likely to get your attention, an ice breaker to start the session, or a letter from the company CEO telling you why it’s important for you to attend the training and what is expected of you? 

Good answer!  So now you know the first tip.  When designing training, use Gagne’s Step One to design a message that will get the learners to sit up and pay attention. Engage the most senior person in the business to communicate directly with the learners that the training is important. I remind clients to do this all the time and often draft the letter for them.  An in-person kickoff speech or short video from the exec to be played at the start of training is also effective.

We’ll look at Step Two on Friday.  Meanwhile…

 Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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