Learning guides are a very useful medium for delivering flexible delivery when the topic and circumstances are conducive to it. According to Bruhn and Guthrie (1994), a Learning Guide is a ‘structured booklet designed to direct the learner through a series of learning activities and to a range of resources to achieve specified competencies or learning outcomes".
A learning guide is not a ‘how to’ manual like manuals that accompany television sets, microwaves and computers etc, but they may be used in conjunction with them. The key focus of learning guides (hereafter ‘guides') is that they guide users through a structured learning experience. Manuals don't do that, they simply provide a number of activities users can follow to get certain outcomes. An example will highlight the difference.
On one occasion I used guides to cover a half dozen or so small topics that were important, but which did not warrant group training sessions (I later redeveloped them as computer based instruction modules delivered online). This was in an organisation that had six offices spread throughout the Northern Territory (Australia), two of which were remote. Costs for training delivery were often very high due to the need for travel, therefore, it was desirable to find alternative delivery modes in order to keep costs.
One of the topics my guides covered for example, was titled “Using Delegations" and consisted of only 16 pages.
Note: For those not familiar with delegations, they refer to the acts or omissions a person holding a specific job can do or not do eg, approve leave of absence for a staff member, buy goods and services valued up to $30,000, or terminate an employee's service. People exercising a delegation are called delegates. If you don't hold delegation, then you can't lawfully execute a task.
It was important that delegates knew what they were, or weren't authorised to do. Non-delegates had to know who had delegation to carry out the tasks required. My short learning guide included the following parts:
- A Module Overview setting out the purpose, delivery strategy, learning outcomes, how to achieve the outcomes, resources required, and details about how the topic was to be assessed
- Five learning activities
- An assessment questionnaire
- A summary and review page
- An attached answers guide for the intermediate assessment topics (self assessment)
Learning activities two through five all had a similar process of getting learners to do something followed by a short self-assessment.
Finally, learners were expected to answer 10 “fill in the answer" questions and provide answers for two small case studies involving real life delegations activities. The former required learners to refer to the organisation's Delegations Manual and record which delegation (if any) fitted a specific circumstance. When learners completed the assessment questionnaire, they would fax it to the Training Department. One of my people would mark it and provide feedback about the result.
Each learning activity covered a separate, small part of the whole topic. (People learn in small bits). I provided feedback through self-assessment and faxed assessment. (People need feedback). Topics were logically sequenced. (People need to work from general concepts to specific concepts). Learners used the manuals and legislation that actually applied to them in their everyday jobs. (Adult learners particularly want to learn ‘real', practical solutions, not deal with fiction).
You'll understand now how the structure in a learning guide and the use of instructional design principles makes them different from a standard operating manual. One key advantage of learning guides is that you don't have to incorporate documents that are elsewhere available . . . all you do is reference them. If they change, it's not that difficult to update your learning guide.
Just as there is a time and place for everything else, there is a time and place for learning guides. If you use them on the right occasion AND your target audience is conducive to self-directed learning, they can be an excellent solution to some of your training delivery challenges. Design lead time is relatively short and they can be effectively delivered using electronic or printed media; they can be used for just-in-time training.
However, like any training intervention, they need to be ‘designed’ using appropriate instructional design principles. That means that it is a specialist job to produce quality guides, not the role of a person who is a ‘presenter’ or ‘facilitator’ having completed a two or three day course in workplace training and assessment.
Most of the learning guides I produced were based on Bruhn and Guthrie's work, although I had used other methods during my teaching/training career and read many other texts. For example, Derek Rowntree's book, details of which appear below, also contain excellent advice and information for anyone wanting to learn the art.
When next you need to deliver numbers of small, concise, discrete topics, think about using learning guides to accompany your organisations operational and procedures manuals.
Bruhn, P and Guthrie, H (1994), Designing Learning Guides for TAFE and Industry. National Centre for Vocational Education Research Ltd, Victoria.
Rowntree, D (Latest edition), Teaching Through Self-Instruction: How to Develop Open learning Materials. Kogan Page Publishing, New York.
Copyright 2005 Robin Henry
Robin Henry is an educator, human resources specialist and Internet entrepreneur. He helps small and home-based businesses and individuals improve performance by applying smart technology and processes and developing personally. He runs his business Desert Wave Enterprises from his home base at Alice Springs in Central Australia, although at present he is working in the United Arab Emirates.
If you need to streamline your business email system, implement a link management program, get a world class Internet site management program, or simply need to know how to apply for a government job, Robin can help.