How Do You Decide What To Prune?

  • 11 July 2022
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Userlevel 7
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One of my favorite quips is

“There are 10 types of people in the world; Those who understand binary and those who don’t.”

 

When I first started at my current company - it was not long before I was asked to help lead some redesign efforts for our service school curriculum. I had went through those courses as a part of my onboarding. As a former high school teacher with experience writing curriculum - my input on what was currently being taught was now being called upon to make the courses better.

As we got our teams together - one of the first questions I asked is “What is the point of this training?” “What does the learner need to know by the time the course is over?”

Once we identified all the things that the learner NEEDED to know - we were able to start pruning. That can be hard for some folks but if you put something in the “Well, that would be nice know, bucket” - I am going to probably end up dumping it if it doesn’t help meet the end goal.

In many cases, just like plants, curriculum needs pruning too. It needs review and we need to re-assess the end game. As product lines change, as technology improves, or as policies are updated, we may find that we need to selectively target some content for pruning.

For me - it is asking the team what learners need to know vs what is simply nice to know. Perhaps years ago they needed to know something but not anymore. Proper pruning leads to healthy growing learning programs that meet the needs of the learner and helps the organization accomplish the mission.

So - is it time to cut the lesson on binary out of your training program yet?

How do you decide and how often do you review existing programs? Please share in the comments.


9 replies

Userlevel 7
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Love this topic. Unfortunately, it probably falls into lost peoples “nice to have bucket” of management activities. 
the other problem is often the politics involved in certain content. 
In my college support days, used to encourage faculty to review each course at least once a year and triage the content for review/renewal/trim. Fortunately we had a process of “deleting” courses every 6 months that purged older courses which got used to force this behavior. 

Userlevel 7
Badge +6

Unfortunately, it probably falls into lost peoples “nice to have bucket” of management activities. 

So true - this often gets put on the back burner in favor of other “more pressing issues”.

Six months seems fast but the timeframe will depend on how often the topic information changes, I suppose. That said - I believe the instructors should always stay on top of their topic and be ready to update things at any moment - whether on their own or with the help of a developer/admin.

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

Unfortunately, it probably falls into lost peoples “nice to have bucket” of management activities. 

So true - this often gets put on the back burner in favor of other “more pressing issues”.

Six months seems fast but the timeframe will depend on how often the topic information changes, I suppose. That said - I believe the instructors should always stay on top of their topic and be ready to update things at any moment - whether on their own or with the help of a developer/admin.

Ah, I should clarify, the 6 month cycle didn’t purge current courses, it purged newly eligible 3 year old courses. It was an ongoing cycle. Now, often since prof’s would just copy the same content over and over, if they reviewed that stuff and what to keep or not, it would impact current courses too. I viewed this as a backstop of sorts, while encouraging avoid just straight copies of every course every term and to proactively review at least 1-2 courses a term so over a 12-18 month period every course type they taught got reviewed. 

In corporate I find way too much focus on executing the new learning plans and moving on and almost nothing put towards maitainence and evaluation unfortunately. 

Userlevel 7
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@Bfarkas - that seems a bit more in line with what I was thinking.

Userlevel 7
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@Greg@Bfarkas - sorry I missed this one. I always thought that courses in curriculum have a life cycle if it is in person or online. At my older gig, we are started getting very strict on the life cycle and in the ILT space if we kept seeing Lvl 1 survey responses that were poor that were in an open catalog? It meant it was time for a refreshing. The EOL with Flash helped to drive some curation as well, but that was because of a discrepant event that made us go back and resolve.

Content curation at all levels is important and to @Bfarkas point? It is always a low level priority for management to keep an eye on. I think what keeps it a priority is if it is a “bread and butter” activity and one that gets alot of visibility.

Same thing with a reasonable chunk of compliance material. Short of a new reg? It can easily go stale. But many compliance teams will go through and scrutinize materials before going live for the next “annual mandatory cycle” - which is a type of forced curation to keep up with the regulatory bodies that are out there.

Userlevel 4

From my professional publishing days, we distinguished publications that were reference versus current awareness materials. Reference materials provide background information or foundational facts about a topic, whereas current awareness materials provide information about what is new or changed. I use the same approach regarding course design and maintenance. 

“Reference” courses are intended to introduce the learner to a topic or provide information that the learner may want to return to frequently to reinforce or confirm facts. We keep these courses evergreen and update them whenever the underlying material changes. We consider the areas most likely to change often in designing these courses. 

The audience for current awareness courses is the learners who have completed the reference courses or are already familiar with the topic. Therefore, I keep current awareness courses active for only 12 to 18 months and use the content of these courses to update the reference course. This approach keeps the course library clean and serves the needs of both new and experienced learners.

Userlevel 7
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Interesting delineating the two, is there still a defined lifecycle for the reference, or really just when someone knows a fact has changed kind of update?

It occurs to I hadn’t mentioned before, internal groups like compliance and approvals get in our way from such a thing as the most we can get is a 2 year approved stamped and that has to be very broad and unlikely to change, most things are a year or less, and then everything has to be reviewed and re-approved and given new dates. While this sounds like a natural cycle occurs as a result, it is almost detrimental to a real review, because so much content that is ok has to be pushed through the process too. Definitely a touch line to find.

Userlevel 4

Interesting delineating the two, is there still a defined lifecycle for the reference, or really just when someone knows a fact has changed kind of update?

 

Since most of the updates from the "reference" courses come from the "current awareness" material, we include the update of the reference as part of the work plan for the current awareness training. The scope of my responsibilities are sales training and the LMS, so I'm not dealing directly with our HR or compliance teams in developing and delivering courses. 

However, both groups have been looking at what we do and are considering adopting the same approach. They receive many complaints from employees about having to retake the growing list of compliance, health and safety, and IT policy courses every year, especially when there are, at most, minor changes. So they propose assigning an entire (reference) course to new hires. Then create a short (current awareness) course covering any changes each year and a summative test covering all the materials. If the learner fails the test, they're referred to the reference course for remediation. If there is a major policy change, they may consider creating a new reference course and assigning it to everyone the first year.

Userlevel 5
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Completely agree with this discussion. We need a way to make a course for periodic review and have the responsible people get a notification.

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