This is a continuation of an article started here.
First principle number four: The Right Fit Principle, which posits that instruction is more likely to succeed if it correctly anticipates the prior knowledge and skill proficiency of its learners. If instruction is too basic, learners get bored. If it is too advanced, they get frustrated.
All courses are either electives or requirements. For electives, helpful course descriptions are critical. Learners need to have information to make good decisions. Of course, even professionals don’t always read carefully. I’ve seen frustrated instructors resort to all caps in their descriptions: “THIS IS NOT A BASIC COURSE.” Whatever it takes.
When a course is required, then it’s the designer’s job to ensure proper audience analysis is happening. Sometimes designers work with a target population enough to anticipate their skill level and misconceptions. If not, some research is in order.
If the target population is diverse in terms of their incoming level of skill and knowledge, acknowledge that in the design. Don’t just aim for the middle; create an instructional architecture that allows more advance learners to continue to advance while also accommodating the relative newbies. That’s not easy, but it’s better than boring half your audience and overwhelming the other half.
First principle number five: The Knowledge Is Power, but Only to a Point Principle
Is very common to see novice developers write objectives like, “participants will be able to deliver FAST feedback to their direct reports,” when it’s clear from their instruction that the best they can hope for is “participants will be able to describe the key principles of FAST feedback,” or similar. Sometimes this is semantics; the developer is aware that the course will only take learners so far and there are plans in place beyond this one class to support skill building. Sometimes, though, developers don’t recognize the difference between teaching knowledge and teaching skills.
The difference is significant, of course. Being able to talk about a skill in the abstract, and actually being able to do the skill, are two different things.
The key here is that course owners and developers should be as precise as possible about what level of skill learners will emerge from the classroom with, and they should communicate this to the stakeholders to let them know what their responsibilities are in terms of picking up where the training leaves off and delivering appropriate on-the-job training.