Sunday, February 20, 2011

Looking at a New Course, Or It's not always about the content

I'm looking at another Learning Tree course in the hopes that I can get the author's job for it. This course is slightly different from the previous one that I worked on as author. In that course, the content was excellent but it was the wrong content for the audience that was showing up to take the course. This course's content is also excellent and is probably exactly what the audience attending the course wants and needs. The content is also well presented.

Yet this course isn't getting the evaluations from the participants that Learning Tree expects. But the first thing to recognize is what the phrase "Learning Tree expects" means: Learning Tree is unhappy if less than 75% of the course participants think that the course is perfect. I'll pass over the sanity of that expectation and note that just over 50% of the participants taking this course think it's perfect.  So Learning Tree is looking for way to improve the course: why doesn't this course achieve that level?

The answer is my usual one: audience.

People who write courses (and teach them) are good at taking new knowledge and applying it. In fact, given new knowledge, these people--now that they have a solution--often go around looking for a problem to apply it to. People who take courses, on the other hand, are less good at seeing how to apply what they see as abstract knowledge to their problems. Instead, what people-taking-courses have are problems. What they come to a class for are solutions to those problems. They want and expect a bright line to be drawn from  the solutions presented in class to their problems. That's where this course isn't living up to the quality of its content.

For instance, while most of the people taking the course are in service industries, the course's case study focuses on a manufacturing company. This dichotomy, all by itself,  makes it difficult for some course participants to apply the course's knowledge to their organization.
    Another example: The course's objectives are laid out at the start of the course. The course's first objective is that participants will be able to "Define the term xxxx." Since most participants don't feel that defining terms is a critical problem for them, this objective has no value to them.
    Most participants are looking for a reliable process: Important problems for them are "What do I do first?", "What do I do next?" The course does imply a process by the order that the content is presented in--but the process is never explicitly stated. As a result, many participants will feel that they have lots of knowledge but no idea when and how to apply it. In addition, I think that people often use a process to organize their knowledge. So, in the absence of a process, the course's content is going to seem confusing, unwieldy, and overwhelming.

But, thanks to this course, I think that I can calculate the percentage of people who need help in applying knowledge to their problems. Right now, somewhere between 50% and 60% of the people taking this course think it's perfect (it really is a very good course). That means that somewhere between 40% and 50% of the audience needs the kind of guidance that this course doesn't provide.

I guess I would sum up the issue like this: Many authors know "the answers". They're even good at expressing "the answers". What they aren't as good at are "the questions"--which is what matters to connect to the people taking the course.

Reading or read

1 comment:

Dave said...

I couldn't agree more on writing the right questions. Targetting your demographic accurately is key in any presentation whether it be a blog post, a seminar, course or posting a comment. Peoples' ears tune in when you're speaking a language they understand. Peoples' ears close immediately when they hear about ACME manufacturing some more widgets. I wish more bloggers and people in every field of writting would take note of such simple yet sage advice.