To Include or Not to Include? by Beth Hughes Return

On the sliding scale of too much versus not enough content, many training developers and subject matter experts err on the side of too much. Chris Adams, a Senior Consultant at Handshaw, often says, "Our clients think the hardest part of developing training is deciding what to include; instructional designers know that the hardest part is deciding what to leave out."

Omitting unnecessary training objectives benefits our clients and their learners: our clients do not have to pay for extraneous training to be developed and save lost productivity costs for the extra time their employees spend in training. Their learners also reduce time spent in training, and with more relevant content, motivation is higher because the content is applicable, and retention are increased because cognitive load is more effectively managed.

So, how do we decide what to leave out? This is what we seek to answer during our task analysis work, and two factors in particular that help us make this determination:

  1. Performance need – Must the learner complete this task to meet the identified accomplishment?
  2. Learner deficiency – Does the learner not know how to do it?

The key to figuring out whether to include the task in training is to realize it's not whether either factor is true, it's whether both are true that makes the determination.

For example, let's say we are conducting a task analysis for a course on making coffee and a task of selecting the right filter size for the coffee machine. During our analysis, we may discover that the correct size filters are delivered with the rest of the office supplies, so this isn't actually a selection that learners need to make. If we use either factor to determine whether this task should be included, we could say, "It's true that learners don't know how to select the right size filters, so we'll include it in the course." However, if we insist that both factors must be true in order to include the task, we could say, "Well, it's true that learners don't know how to select the right size filters, but they don't actually need to do so in order to make coffee, so let's leave it out."

If you require that both questions be true about a task in order for it to make the cut into your course content, instead of including it if either question is true, the content of your course will more accurately and more efficiently help your learners accomplish their performance goal.

About the Author

Beth Hughes has over 10 years of experience leading large, complex analysis and design projects at Handshaw. Beth is a Certified Performance Technologist by the International Society for Performance Improvement and serves as Handshaw's Vice President of Professional Services.