Flipping the training regime

12th Sep 2010
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Matt Pierce discusses the concept of the 'flipped' training session, and how this can improve retention and training efficiency.

Tailoring learning content, training sessions and course materials to the individual or small groups of trainees is a crucial aspect of effective formal training. Identifying how to do this for a specific training session, however, can be challenging.

When training a large number of employees, the first issue to arise is coordination, specifically finding time for many employees to be brought together for several hours. Even the best laid plans can be thrown off by untimely sick days or late morning trains. Availability can also be a factor, with trainees struggling to accommodate a day of off-site training.

"A flipped training session switches the [formal] process. Learning materials are provided to trainees in advance of the session for review... allowing trainees to familiarise themselves with a new resource before stepping foot in a training session."

Informal learning offers a solution. If one employee of 20 misses a session, training can be guided by the knowledge learnt by colleagues. However, this model minimal retention measurement.

Retention is often addressed following a formal session. A question and answer period after training provides insight into information retained in the short term. This relies heavily on the trainees to interact. Having participated in an eight-hour training session, some may be more interested in catching the train home than asking questions, or may simply be shy.

To aid in measuring longer-term retention, a series of short tasks or questions can be used after completion of a training course. However, this only identifies areas where retention is not sufficient and additional training is required to ensure employees have all the information they need. Such insight is far more valuable during, rather than after, a training session.

The 'flipped' training session

The concept of 'flipping' in training has emerged as an adaption to the formal model. Formal training requires trainees to complete a series of tasks to ensure learning content has been understood and retained. Following a training session covering a new online resource, an employee may be asked to complete a series of tasks using the resource. As a result, the training session will lead with a 'how to' style interaction, with the trainer demonstrating the resource's functions.

"The same series of tasks that might be assigned after the session can be completed within the training period. A trainer or administrator can be present to monitor trainees' progress as they carry out assigned tasks."

A flipped training session switches the process. Learning materials are provided to trainees in advance of the session for review. Employees may be given materials a week prior to the session and asked to bring any questions on the content. This provides the theoretical knowledge required, allowing trainees to familiarise themselves with a new resource before stepping foot in a training session. The session is essentially 'flipped'.

The training session can now focus on practical application. The same series of tasks that might be assigned after the session can be completed within the training period. A trainer or administrator can be present to monitor trainees' progress as they carry out assigned tasks. Rather than focusing on a broad overview, the session can hone in on areas where individuals may be having issues. Face-to-face interaction tailors the session; any questions that arise can be answered.

The session also provides valuable insight for trainers in attendance. Any omissions with training content will be quickly identified, allowing trainers to adapt, amend and refine the content to better fit the goal of the session.

Equipping for flipping

Providing learning content to support development is not a new concept. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) documents, instructions and walkthroughs are prerequisites for training. Effectively employing flipping within a training session, however, requires more than a simple 'how to' booklet.

"The session also provides valuable insight for trainers in attendance. Any omissions with training content will be quickly identified, allowing trainers to adapt, amend and refine the content to better fit the goal of the session."

Recording learning content using screencast software is one option. Screencasting, also known as screen recording, allows a user to record all activity on a computer's screen. In developing flipped content, this can take the form of a recorded Microsoft Powerpoint presentation or a demonstration of a new resource. Recordings can be saved as a video file, allowing employees to follow all on-screen action.

Instead of spending two or three hours delivering a Powerpoint presentation a trainer can record a presentation as a screencast, providing a voiceover to guide viewers through the content. Each video can be split into short sections covering specific points or topics, a two-hour presentation might be split into 12 ten-minute sections. This allows trainees to view the presentation in short chunks, aiding in retention. Providing videos also allows trainees to view content in their own time and pause or revisit a section as required.

Time flipped

Flipping provides the potential to reduce the amount of time required for training. By providing learning content in advance, the amount of time required to complete training is reduced. An eight-hour training session may include four hours of formal instruction and four hours of practical exercises. Providing formal content upfront means employees are only required to attend the formal session for half the time. Although some time saved will be taken up by reviewing the flipped content, this can be completed around employees' other priorities, reducing the impact on their working life.

Trainers themselves also save time, as class time is reduced. If a trainer were to deliver the above session four times, they would require 16 hours of class time with the flipped model, but 32 hours with the formal model. The saved time can be put to use in developing or refining flipped content.

Future flipping

In addition to improving retention and time efficiency, flipping offers a solution to coordination issues. Should a trainee be unable to attend a session due to illness, lateness or other factors, they will still have the same theoretical knowledge as their colleagues. Following the informal model, a colleague who attended the flipped session can provide guidance in specific areas where the absentee may be uncertain, even if this is to fill the gap between subsequent sessions.

At the basic level flipping is a simple adaption of traditional training techniques, rather than a method in its own right. Nevertheless, it holds the capacity to greatly improve the training process. Providing training content upfront allows instructor-led sessions to focus on specific requirements of trainees, replacing generic content on a given subject. Measurement is also improved as results are largely demonstrated before the trainer's eyes.

Matt Pierce is training manager at TechSmith Corporation, specialising in aiding trainers in creating effective training materials. For more information please visit www.techsmith.com/learn.

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