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Design your session plan

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Introduction

At the heart of every well designed course or workshop is a detailed session plan that sets out exactly what the trainer will do, and when and how he or she will do it. So what does a good session plan look like? We€™ll show you two formats €“ the traditional horizontal (landscape) plan and a shortened (portrait) style.

Domain of learning

Timings

Start time

The start time is just that €“ when you expect this session to begin. Of course on the actual day the trainer may have a few €˜no shows€™ at the published start time, so he or she may have to delay the start by a little. As trainers progress through the course they always have a guideline of what stage they should be at when they reach key milestones, such as morning break or lunchtime.

Finish time

Knowing the time that each session should finish gives the trainer a good reference point as he or she progresses through the course.

Duration

As the designer you must recognize that the trainer will need to be flexible about the duration of each session as so much depends on the prior knowledge, skills or attitudes of the delegates. An experienced trainer will quickly assess which sessions can be whizzed through quite fast, or which may need more time than scheduled. Or perhaps there is a €˜sticking point€™ that has to be dealt with before progress can be made on the course topic.

Session title

Giving each session its own title helps everyone to see the shape and direction of the course:

  • It helps to persuade the sponsor to €˜sign off€™ the design, especially if you can use some of his or her key words or phrases in the session titles. Lots of Brownie points!
  • A good session title then helps the trainer to see how he or she is progressing through the course, as the names of each session should illustrate the flow of the topics.
  • Lastly, the session titles, if chosen well, should €˜signpost€™ progress to the course delegates and help them see what stage they€™ve reached.

Objectives

  • The next column in the session plan is devoted to objectives. The heading at the top of the column implies the following words: €˜By the end of this session delegates should€¦€™ It€™s very helpful to write focused objectives for each session that keep you, the designer, in touch with the fundamental reasons for having the course or workshop.

Three essential ingredients

So what should the objectives for your training sessions look like? A good objective answers these three questions:

  1. Performance – What do I want people to be able to do after the session?
  2. Criteria – How well must they perform to meet operational requirements?
  3. Conditions – In what context or situation must the skill be performed? Tools, resources, constraints, environment?

For example:

  1. Performance: €˜Administrators will enter all required delegate registration information€¦€™
  2. Criteria: €˜€¦ error-free in 4 minutes or less€¦€™
  3. Conditions: €˜€¦ using the company€™s standard word processing system.€™

Having this degree of detail for each session gives you a flying start to your design – for example in this case you would know that this particular session would have to:

  • Ensure that course delegates really understand what the minimum €˜delegate registration information€™ actually is.
  • Give them the opportunity to practise entering the information on the company standard word-processing system.
  • Provide opportunities for them to build their skills so they can show they can do it consistently error-free, in 4 minutes or less. So you€™ll need to build in time for them to show that they can do it.

Learning methods

Whatever detailed methods you intend to use, remember that each session normally breaks down into three main €˜chunks€™ €“ the beginning, the main body and the end. For a 45-minute session you might need 5 minutes for the beginning, 30-35 minutes for the main body and allow 5-10 minutes for the close.

The beginning

How the trainers open each session is vitally important as they need to quickly establish their own credibility before engaging the delegates€™ interest in the topic. This is critical as the delegates need to believe in the trainers€™ skills, knowledge or expertise if they are to accept what they say. But there€™s a delicate balance to be struck. If trainers come over as being €˜full of themselves€™ and bragging about their success or achievements, the audience may decide to take them down a peg or two. Conversely, if the trainers are too modest the audience may decide they don€™t have enough to offer and not engage with them.

A well-known mnemonic for a good start is INTRO.

  • I €“ Interest/Impact. Engage the delegates by asking a controversial question; or by making a provocative statement; or by telling them something startling; or by referring to a current €˜hot€™ topic (€˜Did you see in today€™s paper€¦?€™)
  • N €“ Need. Why should the delegates be there, let alone listen and learn? Put yourself in the delegates€™ shoes and see how you can make it relevant to them.
  • T €“ Timing. Say how long each session will be, and how it fits into the overall plan for the course. €˜This session lasts for 45 minutes, after which we€™ll be having the morning break.€™
  • R €“ Range. Briefly outline the range or scope of this session, and how it fits into the overall plan. Note the word €˜briefly€™ €“ don€™t give too much detail at this stage.
  • O €“ Objectives. Tell them specifically what they will take away from the session.

The main body

Much of what you do here will depend on the actual methodology you€™ve selected to transfer the learning. If you ensure that you design a logical sequence it will make it easier for the delegates to follow the learning points. If you€™re planning a conventional €˜presentation€™ style then you might wish to use one of the following models:

  • Chronological. Journey from the past, to the present and into the future.
  • Spatial. Imagine describing your new house to your friends. €˜You go in the front door and on the left is the kitchen €“ the stairs are straight ahead€¦€™
  • Business project €“ the four Ps. Start with the Position or situation. Then describe the Problem or opportunities that arise. Next outline Possible solutions, before giving a firm Proposal.
  • Product life cycle. Briefly go through the stages one by one €“ market research, development, production, marketing, distribution and sales.
  • Problem solving. Start with the diagnostic phase €“ define the problem, collect data then search for root causes. Then enter the remedial phase €“ identify possible options, choose the best solution, then implement the solution with energy and review the outcomes.

Whatever you do ensure it€™s relevant and interesting to the delegates, and that it also meets the session objectives. It€™s so easy to get carried away with creative designs which, when tested against the objectives, can so easily miss the target.

There are many different views about how many different concepts you should include in any one session. Many believe in the €˜rule of three€™, which probably comes from sales training where trainees are taught to have no more than three options on the table at any one time. Others believe in the €˜six plus or minus two€™ rule €“ which suggests that people are best able to manage between four and eight ideas at any one time.

The best guideline is the topic itself. Imagine the flow from the delegates€™ point of view, especially when you consider what went before and what comes after. How much detail do you put in the session plan? As much as is required to ensure that the trainer follows the sequence you want, so that delegates gain the required amount of learning from the session.

The end

Every session will need a positive close when the trainer reviews what€™s happened, and clarifies any issues or concerns the delegates may have. We would suggest that you do this in two parts. First, build in time for questions and answers to clarify any outstanding issues or concerns, and then close each session with a short summary of what the delegates should have learnt.

Administration and logistics

Use the last column to record all the practical stuff the trainer needs to make it all happen, such as delegate name cards, materials, equipment, workbooks, PowerPoint, flipcharts, etc.