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Joy Wilson

Spectrum Training services

Learning and Development Consultant

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Design Crimes in Learning & Development


Recently I have been “Optimising” a huge library of learning and development materials for an organisation who wish to transfer traditional teacher-focused learning to a blended approach.

The collection of materials has been designed by a variety of individuals and consists of a mixture of styles, templates, fonts, a mistake this approach has diluted the organisations branding, however this issue is relatively easy to address since in the future the material will be presented via a variety of methodologies aimed at producing learner-focused experiences which were simply not possible using the traditional classroom methods only.
What is difficult to comprehend is why the organisation failed to provide those they commissioned to design materials with a standard template, and why these materials failed to deliver against objectives.  However the worst crimes have been committed by those who have designed the materials.
Design Crime – The Dirty½Dozen
I am trying not to rant here, however when you have finished reading this article if you are remotely interested in ensuring the effectiveness of your training and development materials, I suggest you go check them for examples of the following design disasters:
  1.  A picture is worth a thousand words, but are the selected images conveying information and helping to communicate goals? I am finding clipart for ClipArt’s sake in workbooks and presentations mainly, for the sake of design rather than to convey information. In many cases I find myself distracted by inappropriate and ineffective images and puzzled by the presentation which often became a media showcase the message or content buried.
  2. Obscure objectives – Clear objectives help designers to figure out what content and activity is required to meet them. When clearly defined aims and objectives are lacking, there is no sound basis for the selection or design of material content and methods. I am also finding examples where objectives have been clearly stated and not met.
  3.  A focus on activities not information –workbooks stuffed with activities with no information about the purpose of the activity and no opportunity for the learner to evaluate the activity. Often the workbooks were "designed" or  thrown together as support materials for accredited courses which required participants to write assignments but of course when the material lacks the information required to generate new knowledge it is useless as a vehicle to provide continuous and effective learning reference resource
  4. What does the learner need to know that is useful in the real world? What is the learner supposed to be able to do and what behaviours must people take to reach that business goal and acquire skills and/or knowledge that will be immediately transferrable in their role at work? Oh dear I could weep –94% of the masses of material that I have assessed has been populated with excessive information about established models and left me as a learner asking “so what, how can I apply this, and why is it helpful”?
  5. Spending too much time on the nice-to-know versus the need-to-know and therefore creating an information dump. You’re almost always going to have more information than you need and clear learning objectives provide a framework for filtering out the critical information. If learners have too much information they effectively overload and are unable to see wood for trees. Cover the need-to-know and put the nice-to-know in an appendix if necessary.
  6. Using language that is inappropriate or patronizing. Use of unexplained acronyms, slang, culturally offensive and excessive text. The language used between the learning resource and the learner must be common to both rather than use few words to express meaning I have found pages upon pages of text pasted from Wikipedia which obviously hasn’t been proof read.
The effectiveness of training starts at the design stage and the design provides an opportunity to take the first critical steps to engaging your participants – stakeholders if you are reading this perhaps now you might understand why your materials need to be overhauled.

One Response

  1. Thank you!


    This article is long overdue, and highlights a lot of problems that many trainers may just not be aware of. In my experience, most trainers like to design their own material (which is fair enough), but they tend to design it with them and their delivery at the forefront of their mind. NOT that I’m suggesting that they don’t give proper consideration to learners…rather that they design just enough to allow them to deliver the material well, and ‘fill in the blanks’ as they go….there is a lot that is required to be read ‘between the lines’.

    Quality training design does indeed stand alone, so that it can be referred to long after the event, and still be meaningful. Of course, the delivery of the material brings it to life, adds value, and other ‘layers’, but if we want to provide long-lasting results, then trainers must give as much attention to the design as they do to research and delivery.

    I know that you are a skilled and experienced training designer, but many are not. It’s something that I share your passion for, and have created a quick guide to designing effective training to help those who may not be quite so experienced. Quality design underpins quality training.

    Sheridan Webb

    Keystone Development

Author Profile Picture
Joy Wilson

Learning and Development Consultant

Read more from Joy Wilson

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