One of the first questions stakeholders ask in the learning development process is, “how much training credit are we going to give for this?”  This is actually one of the last questions I ask when developing a training solution.

Non-developers ask this question first because they are usually accountable for creating training opportunities that will help employees meet their annual requirements or because they have to fit the training into a larger program.

Developers ask this question last because it places the emphasis in the wrong place, limits the design process, inhibits creative thinking (yes training development requires creativity), and because it is impossible to answer at the beginning of the process.

In Chapter 9 of Designing Successful E-Learning, Michael Allen describes a process he calls “backgrounding.”  This is an information gathering stage that occurs before the actual design of a training solution begins.  In this process he suggests some key questions you SHOULD be asking first regardless of the format of your training solution.

  1. Is there really a human performance problem? This is similar to standard 5 of ISPI’s performance standards which I wrote about here.
  2. Is the problem caused by a lack of ability to perform?  Cause analysis is standard 6, which I wrote about here.
  3. What are the determinants of behavior?  “People do things for reasons.  Their reasons may be built on misconceptions, fears, and lack of confidence, desire to fit in and behave like everyone else, perceived strengths and so on.  To be successful with a learning intervention, instructional designers need to identify the primary determinants of the behaviors that need to be changed.”

When I am “backgrounding” a project I want to know what result we are trying to achieve, what problem we are trying to solve or what opportunity are we trying to address.  ISPI uses the acronym RSVP to describe this process.

R – Results
S – Situation or context
V – Value
P – Partnerships

The answers you get when backgrounding a project will focus your efforts and greatly increase your likelihood of success.  Forcing a topic (assuming it is the right topic) into a predefined time-limited box will greatly impair your design and development effort and may cause you to miss your target altogether.