Training by Design, Part 1 - Training -

Training by Design, Part 1

Achieving a comprehensive training program is easier than you think, part 1



JP Molnar | From the March 2009 Issue Sunday, March 1, 2009

Training occupies a unique niche in most professions, including law enforcement. And although it seems everyone agrees that training is important, it's always the first thing an agency puts on the back burner for other priorities, especially if the needed training curriculum hasn't been created. This might be OK in other fields, but training simply can't be ignored in law enforcement.

Law enforcement trainers, especially EVOC instructors, are all too familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Canton v. Harris (489 US 378 [1989]), which essentially decided that government agencies can be held liable for failing to provide their employees with adequate training in areas integral to the scope of their duties. The buzz word here is adequate because its meaning can take on many interpretations, depending on who the reader is. Adequate training can also be simplistic or complex, depending on the scope of what is being taught. Example: Delivering a four-hour classroom session on sexual harassment can be logistically easier than delivering 40 hours of firearms or EVOC training. Complex or not, the training requirement is still important, and the courts don't really care what the excuses are for not getting it done.

So what do EVOC and other trainers do if their agencies are faced with developing a comprehensive training program and have nothing to work with? This month, I discuss training programs in general, how to develop topics of instruction and lesson plan titles through needs assessment, craft an instructional goal that meets the needs of a target audience and the importance of the learning environment.

I'm constantly amazed by how many agencies don't have structured training development processes in place. They know what they want to accomplish, but don't know how to get there. Although this column normally deals with topics related to driver training, the structure presented here can be applied to any training program. This guide will help you develop the basic structure of a training program and uses EVOC as an example.

It's very important to decide beforehand if the training program you develop will be submitted to an outside certification or accreditation agency, such as POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training), or if it's going to be an internal program. Obtaining accreditation from an outside organization has its positives and negatives. On the plus side: Your agency's program can meet POST (or another accrediting organization's) requirements for a critical subject. An approved program can also be taught to other agencies to meet the accreditation training requirements or obtain reimbursement funding for training. Accreditation can also help add legitimacy to the program because it is a third-party certification process.

On the minus side: Your agency's program can be subjected to the approval of the accrediting organization, and the approval process can be lengthy, which delays training. Finally, your particular training need may not be something that needs to be certified or accredited.

Not achieving accreditation does not mean that your training program has less merit or validity, as long as you construct a measured, validated, repeatable program with integrated assessment processes conducted by instructors who are subject matter experts in their field. Example: When I was teaching EVOC at the Western Nevada State Peace Officer Academy, the academy purchased a SKIDCAR system. I went through an intensive instructor-certification process through SKIDCAR and became a factory-certified instructor. A SKIDCAR lesson plan was developed and implemented by the academy with no need for outside accreditation because the program didn't replace or conflict with required EVOC training for state peace officer certification.

So before you start on your needs assessment, decide if you want to conform to an existing criterion to receive accreditation or certification from a recognized outside organization or if you want to develop the program on your own to meet your unique needs.

Needs Assessment
The first step in designing an appropriate training program is to conduct a needs assessment. This step identifies the learning problem (opportunity). Example: Let's say your agency recently decided to incorporate full-size, four-wheel-drive (4WD) SUVs into its patrol fleet. The learning opportunity: Officers need to be trained on how to operate full-size, 4WD vehicles in the patrol environment.

After the issue is identified, the next step is to perform a gap analysis, which means you look at what training needs to be done in comparison to what is already being done. In this example, there is nothing already being done because these vehicles are new to the agency.

The next step is to decide what training should be available. A 4WD EVOC course should be available to teach patrol officers how to properly drive the new vehicles. The complexity of what should be available can vary, depending on why the agency bought the SUVs. Was it because officers needed more space to carry gear? Was it because officers find themselves driving in inclement weather for most of the year? Was it because officers are going off-road regularly? These are the types of questions that must be considered, and the answers will help shape your instruction topic.

In our example, the topic is emergency vehicle operations. Because that's more general in scope, instructors have to develop a specific lesson plan title, such as "Operating 4WD SUVs in Patrol Environments." After the topic is identified, your next step is to develop an instructional goal.

Instructional Goal
The instructional goal simply makes an umbrella statement about what it is you're trying to accomplish with the training. Let's say that your agency purchased the SUVs because it rains and snows half the year, but officers don't drive offroad very often. They still need to learn how to operate the SUV, so a goal that could be used is: "Upon completion of the class, students will possess a clear understanding of the design and operation of department 4WD SUVs in all types of weather, and how to properly use them in the law enforcement environment." A goal such as this provides the instructor leeway while clearly stating the training objective.

This goal provides the framework that the program is developed within and shouldn't be confused with interim objectives, which are designed to help meet the goal.

After you've determined the goal, the target audience, learning setting and delivery modality must all be considered before developing performance-based objectives.

Target Audience
The target audience is the crowd you will be teaching. This concept may seem simple at first, but it's important to analyze your potential audience because your lesson plan must address the most important aspect of successful training:

the WIFM (What's-in-it-for-me?) factor. If you don't take the time to understand your audience, you're in danger of losing them in the first few minutes of instruction.

I don't have to provide examples here. We've all been in that class. The one in which we ended up asking ourselves why we were there. If you're designing a class for line officers, make sure that all the topics you address directly affect their ability to effectively use an SUV in the field. Classes on liability and operational costs of SUVs belong to another audience, so minimize or leave out these and similar topics.

Learning Setting
Understanding your audience is critical to deciding what sort of learning setting should be used, because the learning environment sets the stage for developing your audience's performance-based objectives.

Getting back to our example, administrative attendees of a class on SUV operation may have no interest in actually driving the vehicles if their only interaction is from a liability, fleet management, insurance or other administrative standpoint. Devoting half a day of track exercises to people that don't want, or need, to drive SUVs in a patrol environment would be ineffectual and inefficient. Using a classroom as the learning setting for this group makes the most sense. By contrast, a group of patrol officers needs extensive track time and little classroom. For each group, the learning setting should differ based on the needs of the target audience.

Another important consideration in identifying the best learning setting is to examine available resources. Example: You can't decide to assess students on a 50-mph perception reaction exercise if your driving track is barely big enough to practice parallel parking. The same theory goes for classroom instruction. You can't show a cool DVD on hydroplaning if you don't have access to a DVD player, or if there's no classroom at your training site. Determining the learning setting will help you decide what's feasible and what's not. Yes, we all want a 3.5-mile road course with high-banked ovals, multiple intersections and road surfaces, and digital classrooms, but sometimes all you have to work with is a 400' x 500' paved parking lot at a ski resort because it's free. So determine the learning setting and plan your delivery modality and performance objectives according to your resources.

If your training requires both classroom and track driving, then your learning setting would be stated as, "Classroom instruction with demonstration and application on the driver training track." This learning setting allows the instructor to decide what learning modalities will work best for delivering lesson plan material that best accomplishes the goal of assessing performance-based objectives.

Summary & Part II
Remember those academy report-writing classes in which we were hit with the mantra, "If it isn't in your report, it didn't happen."? The same goes for training programs. To protect you and your agency when the depth and quality of training is in question during a litigious (read civil damages) situation, you must have documents and protocols that show that your lesson plans were properly constructed and conducted. Having a plan also makes it much easier to gather the appropriate resources and attain reasonable goals through meeting achievable objectives.

In Part 2 of "EVOC by Design," I'll discuss the importance of understanding learning styles, choosing proper learning modalities, setting performance objectives, developing formative and summative assessments, content choice, material resources and instructional strategies. In the meantime, if you have a training plan that needs assembling, these guidelines will get you started.

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JP MolnarJP Molnar, Law Officer's Cruiser Corner columnist, is a former state trooper and has been teaching EVOC since 1991 for numerous agencies.


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