Training by Design, part 3

Tips on the final elements you’ll need, from identifying resources to evaluating success, part 3

 


 

JP Molnar | From the May 2009 Issue Friday, May 15, 2009

In Part 1 of this series (Law Officer , March 2009, www.lawofficer.com/news-and-articles/articles/lom/0503/cruiser_corner.html) , I discussed the basic structure of a training plan. I used the development of an EVOC training plan as a basic example, but the components—conducting a needs assessment, determining an instruction goal that addresses the needs of your target audience and setting a proper learning setting—apply to any instructional plan. In Part II (Law Officer , April 2009, www.lawofficer.com/news-and-articles/articles/lom/0504/cruiser_corner_training_by_design.html) , I discussed the importance of understanding learning styles, setting performance objectives and choosing proper instructional modalities.

In this last installment, I discuss the final elements you need to address in a training plan: 

  • Developing formative and summative assessments;
  • Choice of content;
  • Learning context;
  • Material resources;
  • Instructional strategies; and
  • Proper instructor acquisition.

Formative Assessments
In training, there are two ways to determine a student’s learning success: formative and summative. 

Formative assessments involve information gathered during instruction that is used to adjust and improve program content and teaching. Experienced instructors often do this on the fly: They see that a certain instruction method isn’t working and switch strategies until they find one that does. 

Example : Consider the EVOC SUV training program we’ve used as a guideline throughout this series. Assume an instructor is trying to teach the student the proper way to engage the 4WD system. He hands the student an instruction sheet on how to engage the vehicle’s transfer case, plus the 4-high and 4-low settings in 4WD. 

In Part II, we discussed the importance of understanding visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. 
In this case, the student is a kinesthetic learner, so hands-on is what they understand. The instructor, conducting a formative assess­ment on the student’s lack of progress, realizes that the instruction sheet is causing a learning block. So he instructs the student to grab the 4WD engagement handle and pull it, stop the vehicle, place the transmission in “neutral,” slide the transfer case to “4-low” and re-engage the transmission. This example of formative assessment and resultant change in instructional strategy is important because it improves the overall program

Other examples of formative assessments come from the students. If you’re giving regular written quizzes, the actual quiz is summative, but students can use their performances to form a self-assessment of their progress. 

Other common formative assessment tools are the peer review process and end-of-class surveys. These are important feedback mechanisms that help improve the training course. 

Put simply: When developing a program, it’s important to have tools that help both instructors and students gauge their performances, adjust on the fly and make changes that improve the learning process.

Summative Assessments
Summative assessments are straightforward and involve tests given at the end of a predetermined period that assess proficiency: written exams, end-of-week quizzes, end-of-subject-matter exams, end-of-term exams, etc. For law enforcement, summative assessments are usually the form of the POST (or other) certification test given at the end of the academy to qualify the cadet as eligible for employment as a peace officer in a given state.

Summative assessments are critical to training programs because they provide the cornerstone of documentation. In any training course, you must define the criteria by which you will evaluate and stamp your seal of approval on the student, indicating that they’ve demonstrated the necessary competency. Note : The class length isn’t relevant, just that there will be a final assessment mechanism. 

For our EVOC SUV class, a summative assessment could be a final test in which the student drives a closed course in 2WD, enters an off-road section, engages 4WD and successfully negotiates the course without striking cones—all within a given time frame. 

Subjective parameters can be used in a summative assessment. When I taught EVOC at Western Nevada College, there were several “final” exams. One was the final pursuit evaluation, in which an instructor evaluated the student during a mock pursuit using a complex matrix of skill evaluation. Some skills were objective (e.g., didn’t strike a cone), but others were subjective (e.g., applied smooth braking when approaching corners). Both categories were critical for passing, and both had sections for written comment and review. 

Whether you’re using objective or subjective evaluation, it’s critical that the summative assessment paperwork is accurate. As you develop written summative assessment processes, use formative assessment strategies to ensure evaluations reflect the subject matter being taught. This will help you if any questions arise regarding the scope of training delivered and the performance of the officer in question. 

Content Choice
When developing a new training program, it’s not necessary to have the subject matter experts in-house, as long as two things are possible: First, you have the ability to send instructors to relevant training so they can become subject matter experts, and second, you have access to resources that allow you to gather the information necessary to assemble an effective lesson plan that meets the objectives of your training goal. 

Example: If you’re devising a 4WD SUV EVOC program and none of your staff has experience operating these vehicles, find departments that have similar programs and inquire about train-the-trainer programs. Contact civilian driver training companies that specialize in off-road training, and enroll your instructors. If your department is purchasing Ford Expeditions, contact the regional Ford Motor Co. office and set up a product training session at a local dealership with a service technician and sales training professional. Both can educate instructors on the vehicle so they’re prepared to teach students. 

Research agencies that have existing programs, and request a copy of their training protocols. It may not be exactly what you want, but it will give you a good start on your outline, or allow you to acquire training materials, such as DVDs, PowerPoints, etc. 

When considering content, stick to the program goal and objectives you developed (you did, didn’t you?) early on. There’s no sense in acquiring 20 different training DVDs when you only have time to show one or collecting training materials on 4WD manual engagement when all of your vehicles have full-time 4WD. 

Plan your content list, then seek ways in which to obtain it. Remember : Nobody is a subject matter expert at birth. We all have to learn it somewhere before we can teach it. 

Learning Context
Learning context involves the terms and conditions in which the training will be conducted and the environment established that allows learning to be conducted.

When you’re developing a training plan, consider if the content, instructional setting, resources, constraints and instructional strategies are appropriate and conducive to success. 
Example : I’ve constructed a mock Learning Context Outline below for the SUV EVOC program: 

Instructional setting : It will be entirely face-to-face and will consist of the following components:Police academy classroom environment featuring multimedia presentations;

  • Driving simulator located at the academy ; and
  • Behind-the-wheel training using department-owned SUV patrol vehicles on academy EVOC course and nearby off-road trails.  

Resources:

  • Police academy classroom with multimedia projectors, driving simulator and equipment;
  • Department SUV 4WD training manual;
  • Existing police academy 20-acre EVOC track;
  • Multiple off-road trails within a five-minute drive from academy;
  • Five EVOC-trained and certified instructors;
  • 10 department-owned 4WD SUV patrol vehicles;
  • Police academy auto shop, tools and mechanics; and
  • 150 orange traffic cones.  

Constraints:

  • Driver training available when academy EVOC track not occupied by cadets in training;
  • Class size limited to 10–12 students to maintain favorable instructor-to-student ratio;
  • Student attendance subject to availability based on job schedule and other duties; and
  • Behind-the-wheel time limited due to three-day training envelope.  

Instructional Design:

  • Class based on 10–12 students, with three eight-hour weekday classes done consecutively.  

Of course, the list for each area can grow or shrink based on your particular needs. The point is that by assembling all of the parameters that could affect the class environment, you’ll identify potential weaknesses ahead of time or determine if the training is even feasible. 

There’s an old adage, “Look before you leap.” A learning context outline will help you do just that. It prevents snags down the road and helps create a learning environment most con­ducive and relevant to what you want to teach. 

Material Resources
Making a material resources list is like packing for a long trip. It’s an inventory of everything you could possibly need to make the trip a success. The same goes for this facet of your training program outline. This is your inventory of what’s needed to make the program work, from paper clips to Porta-Potties. This list will help you assess the existing infrastructure and determine what other items must be purchased or acquired. 

Material resources include places and things. In our EVOC training, the driving track and local off-road trails are material resources. No track or trail; no training. The more thorough your list, the better idea you’ll have about what it’s going to take to make the training happen. It will also give you ammunition when talking to administrators who “want the training,” but don’t know how to make it happen. Present them a list of 85 material resources, and they’ll realize the project’s scope and recognize your due diligence in proper planning.

A training plan’s Material Resources section is critical to ensuring that you have the tools in place when training begins. Again, refer back to the program goal and objectives you developed earlier to develop a list that’s reasonable and appropriate. So make a list, check it twice, and have it as part of your plan.

Instructional Strategies
Your instructional strategies should mirror the goal and objectives you’ve developed and incorporate the most beneficial learning style for the program’s content.

Example : Learning how to drive a 4WD SUV comes from actually driving the vehicle, so experiential and kinesthetic learning strategies are most 
appropriate. A class on administrative law has little room for kinesthetic learning, so auditory and visual instructional strategies are probably best. 

The following is a sample summary of instructional strategies for the 4WD SUV course: 

“Based on the subject matter and student demographics, students are kinesthetic learners. Instructors will use videos, white boards and PowerPoint in the classroom, and hands-on learning at the academy EVOC course and local off-road trails. Instructors must guide and observe learners in hands-on learning exercises and be immediately available for questions. Instructors must also conduct behind-the-wheel training and evaluation. 

“The course will teach students the proper operation of 4WD SUV vehicles in the patrol environment. The instruction process will be multi-stage. The initial stage will use classroom multimedia to educate students on the history, technical design and operational capabilities of 4WD vehicles. The secondary stage will use the police academy garage to teach the mechanical design and systems operation of department 4WD SUVs. The third stage will use the academy EVOC track and local off-road trails to educate students in behind-the-wheel driving techniques, skills and patrol requirements. 

“Instructional strategies will include classroom multimedia, team exercises, hands-on evaluation and practical field exercises. Students will be required to master technical information and procedures for operating department 4WD SUVs properly both on-road and off-road. Students will also be required to demonstrate proficiency in the operation of a 4WD SUV in a manner consistent with department standards.” 

Your instructional strategy outlines the manner in which you’ll accomplish the training and includes the dominant learning style, stages of instruction and expected outcome based on these strategies. The instructional strategy is your program in a nutshell and is critical to determining the program’s necessary support resources. 

Instructor Selection
Other than the goal and objectives, instructors are the most critical part of your training program. The best program in the world is worthless if the instructors aren’t skilled in communication, subject matter and recognizing when learning is and isn’t happening. There are volumes written about instructor selection, but here are a few basic tips. 

First, a good instructor has passion for the subject. They genuinely believe in the topic and are a fan of it outside of the classroom. Picking a passionate instructor seems common sense, but it happens less than you might think. 

Second, being a subject matter expert brings credibility to an instructor, but it must not be at the expense of humility or communication skills. We all know officers who “wrote the book” on a topic, but the problem is that they know it . Although they’re knowledgeable, they can let their ego get in the way of being a productive and valuable resource. The best instructors know that they always have something new to learn. 

Third, take the time to research who in your department has teaching skills or knowledge in the area. I can’t tell you how many departments never bother to consider what someone was doing before they became a police officer. Do you have an officer who taught in the military, a high school or the corporate environment? It’s worth finding out. 

Finally, pick instructors who want to teach. The greatest training plan can be torpedoed by a bad or indifferent attitude, but the driest topic can be resurrected by an enthusiastic instructor who wants to share their knowledge. You can train people to teach, but it’s harder to train them to have a good attitude. Pick wisely because these instructors will be in charge of making your hard work come to fruition. 

Conclusion
The cost of not doing training can be much higher in the long run than applying the principles of this three-part series on constructing a training program. As officers, we must properly prepare new officers and our peers for the rigors and responsibilities of the job. The public demands it. The courts demand it. You should demand it. 

Constructing a training program can be daunting. This article series provides a basic outline for the development of any training program, and we didn’t even get to implementation. However, if you use the components I’ve discussed, it will give you the foundation of a program that’s successful by design.



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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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