Designing For Success: Create Impactful Learning Programs and Session Plans

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Professional Development

This bite-size tutorial will cover key aspects of designing learning programs and session plans. Both are equally important from a design perspective to ensure effective training and assessment practices can follow.

It's important to first understand what learning programs are.

Learning programs are documents that help guide trainers to create cohesive and integrated learning processes for their learners. A learning program can be a subset of an overall qualification such as a “Certificate I in Hospitality”, or it may be for a unit from a skill set such as a “Facilitation Skill Set”, or it can even be for a standalone unit of competency such as “Provide First Aid”.

Let's consider learning programs in the context of a nationally recognised qualification. For example, the Certificate I in Hospitality requires successfully completing six units of competency. Learning programs will need to be developed for these 6 units. This does not necessarily mean that 6 individual learning programs require development. Sometimes, it is worthwhile to consider integrating more than one unit into a learning program.

For example, where units 1 and 2 may have similar or crossover content, the requirements of these units may be incorporated into one learning program. It is fair to say that both units 1 and 2 reflect interpersonal working relationships and could well be integrated into one learning program.

Similarly with units 3 and 4, the same could be considered as both relate to Safe Work Practices in hospitality. On the other hand, you may decide that a unit of competency is best served as a learning program unto itself, such as “prepare and present sandwiches”.

Learning programs need to cover a number of parameters. 

These include: 

  • Coverage and Outcomes - The learning outcomes to be achieved noting that units of competency specify “benchmark requirements for competency”. 
  • Delivery Methods and Activities - The delivery methods of different sessions and activities for the learner's participation. 
  • Delivery and Assessment Strategy - The overall delivery and assessment strategy. For example, is a program trained and assessed in a classroom, a real or simulated workplace, or perhaps a combination? What will the methods of assessment be? 
  • Learner Support Strategies - What learner support strategies need to be considered? For example learners with disabilities or other special needs. 
  • Organisational Requirements - We also need to consider any organisational requirements, particularly work health and safety, but may include other things such as security, dress codes, etc. 

When developing a learning program, there are a series of logical steps:

  1. Training and Learner Needs - The first is to identify and document the training needs and the needs of the learner group. These can be determined through consultation with stakeholders to clearly understand the training requirements. 
  2. Document Progam Details -  Next is to document the program details in line with previously discussed learning program content. 
  3. Program Schedule -  This will include developing an overall program schedule that can lead to the development of session plans. 
  4. Competency Map - It’s important to include a mapping document that identifies where the program schedule addresses the requirements of the unit or the units of competency the program covers. 
  5. Program Approval - Finally, review the program with relevant stakeholders to ensure the client's needs are addressed.

It is critical to get all the information we need before designing the learning program, and this could involve preparing a list of questions such as availability of learners, preferred learning styles, prior understanding of the topics, and current skill levels just to name a few. 

Evaluate Core Skill Requirements

Core skills are part of everyday life and need to be considered in developing the learning program. This would include identifying the target learners' current core skill levels, the job role's core skill demands, and with these in mind, the core skill level approach taken to the training.

Other skill requirements also necessitate evaluation for the development of learning programs. These include core skills for work also known as “employability skills”. These skills include interacting with others and getting the work done, so it is important the learning programs and session plans provide learners with opportunities to showcase these skills. Using computers and other digital devices is commonplace, but learners often have varying skills in this area. While the learning program should incorporate the digital literacy requirements, any support needs should also be included.

Studies show that we learn best when information is provided in small chunks and presented in a logical and appropriately timed sequence from start to finish.

In fact, “units of competency” themselves are chunked in the form of elements and performance criteria and often follow a logical sequence. Documenting a learning program schedule provides a way of breaking down the unit's contents into manageable and logically sequenced training sessions.

In preparing to develop the learning program schedule, illustrating an overview of the sessions is worthwhile. Naturally, we would start with an introduction and then include dedicated sessions to cover the outcomes of the unit, followed by a suitable program closure. 

Note that whilst this illustration suggests one session for each of the three elements, there may be times when more than one session may be required to address the element. For example, you might plan to dedicate two sessions to making sandwiches. There are no specific rules here, and it would be up to you to lay out a schedule with a quantity and sequence of sessions that best address the learning outcomes while considering the learner group.

The learning program schedule is a table providing an overall training agenda. While the format may vary in different organisations, it includes details that can lead to the development of session plans. It includes session numbers and the duration of each session, then the session title, the learning outcomes, and a summary of the content. It also includes the approach taken to the delivery of each session, any resources or equipment required and assessment methods where applicable.

For example, session 1 is an introduction, and we can allocate 45 minutes. The content can include a welcome to the participants, safety requirements and introductions around the group. It will also include an overview of the workshop and any assessment information, and we may even include an icebreaker activity. This activity can be facilitated by the trainer encouraging group discussion.

It’s noted that PowerPoint slides and equipment are required to present them, along with other equipment and resources. The session would not involve any assessment, which is again noted.

Next, we table session two which is the first element from the unit.

We include the learning outcomes as content for the session, covering the performance criteria of this element. This information can be further contextualised for the learner group to reflect familiar terminology procedures or equipment.

The session can include an explanation and demonstration from the trainer, and it's important to include engaging activities to promote group participation.

Again we will note the resources and equipment required. Here we might include a knowledge quiz or practical tasks to assess the learning outcomes.

A competency map is a good checklist to ensure that the required benchmarks are covered in the training. Here we have recorded that the requirements for element 1 are addressed in session two.

You should then review your completed learning program with relevant stakeholders including your supervisor and the client and make any required changes before developing the session plans.

Now that we have an overall learning program it's over to developing dedicated session plans to engage our Learners and ensure a logical learning progression. 

So what is a session plan?

It's a record of information relevant to the training and assessment agreed upon by the trainee, employer, trainer, and other relevant parties. It involves taking sections from the learning program schedule and building on this information to create plans to effectively facilitate and engage learners to achieve specific learning outcomes. 

The session plan is not a script, or a PowerPoint slideshow but a clear road map to help navigate your lesson. 

Session plans may vary per organisation but generally include the following types of information:

  • Where the training is to take place. 
  • Activities to involve the learners. 
  • An introduction, body and conclusion. 
  • The delivery methods and timelines for each session should also be included, and it should list the learning materials, equipment, and resources required. 
  • Learning needs and work health safety requirements should also be identified for general safety and any unique hazards. For example, knives when preparing sandwiches.

There is a series of steps to follow when developing session plans. 

  1. Decide Learning Outcome - First, establish the learning outcome or learning outcomes to be achieved by the end of the session. 
  2. Organise Content For Session - Next, organise your content for the session to be included in your introduction, body and conclusion. 
  3. Select Delivery Methods - You'll also need to select your delivery methods, from here you can…
  4. Write the Session Plan - Once you've written your session plan…
  5. Develop Resources - You'll need to source or develop the required resources and then…
  6. Prepare For Delivery - make any preparations for delivery. For example, advise the learners of session dates and times etc.

The major components of the session plan are the introduction, body, and conclusion, and careful planning needs to go into these. 

Be aware that you are not writing a script here for your session but a series of prompts to guide you in facilitating the session.

The session introduction should provide an overview of the session and its purpose. It is good to promote the session's relevance and how it fits into the overall training of a learning program. For example “By the end of this session, you will have the skills and knowledge to appropriately select ingredients for the purpose of making sandwiches. This is one unit from the overall Certificate I in Hospitality”. 

One model that is widely used in training is the EDAS model. It stands for Explain, Demonstrate Apply and Summarise

The trainer explains and demonstrates the knowledge or skill for each training component, sometimes simultaneously. From there the learner is given an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge, which is not necessarily limited to one try. 

The session is then summarised, recapping the learning outcomes providing an opportunity for clarification, and presenting a pathway to future learning. 

Another consideration is for the trainer to demonstrate a skill at the normal or benchmark pace. But then do it again slowly and step by step. For example, folding a napkin. This can be followed by the trainer and learners practising the skill together and then leaving the learners to practice on their own while the principle of reinforcement is being used.

Usually when preparing sessions for delivery, the development of resources is more time-consuming. These resources could be PowerPoint slides, handouts, or even tactile resources. It's important to consider different learning styles when preparing resources, including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. Your resources should be designed to engage your learners and promote active participation. There's a separate video to assist you with this.

Finally, when developing your session plans, don't forget to include ways to obtain feedback to help you with future training. These can include verbal feedback during the session or more formal provided in written feedback forms, or an online survey. It can also include your own self-reflection on how the session went. Any feedback will help you to identify what went well, any improvements you can make, and any things to remove from the session.

Happy training and remember to reach out if you need any assistance. We're here to help.

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