Course Outlines are Less Useful than you think...

Deductive vs. Inductive Course Design == Failure vs. Success.

If I hear about yet another training course whose structure was obviously designed as a result of deductive reasoning (i.e. an "outline-based" syllabus), I think I might just retch a little. When will enough people realize learning _always_ happens more deeply and effectively, when educational experiences are designed inductively (i.e. backwards, from a "results frame" back to the "arrival frame")?


Outlines are deductive.  You begin with a need in mind to cover a certain amount of content and then flesh it out, see how much you can cram in and how to structure it.  This is an awful way to learn.


Skills and experiential capabilities are Inductive.  You aim to help people achieve a certain result or depth of skill.  So you design backwards from that.  This is a completely different approach to learning, and while it does INITIALLY result in an outline... if the trainer is worth their salt, they know that they may need to reorder or redesign the plan on the fly once they meet their students.  When the result is more important than the plan, as I believe it should almost always be, then any outline becomes a distraction for the students.


If you're a Speaker, have you ever had to answer the question "Please Provide Us an Outline?"  Or, do you personally tend to ask that?


This question comes from a mindset about education that does not take into account the vast majority of recent research into more effective and accelerated learning. 


In my field, many trainers consider the desire to lean on the crutch of an outline as an impoverished mindset.  Administrators need outlines.  Government regulators need outlines.  The fastest learners seek gifted trainers who can provide unique learning experiences.

My first response to any question seeking an outline is "Can I ask... Why do you need the outline?"

And then I mention a listing program: "is it because you believe that's the best way to evaluate a trainer's offering? Or because your boss, the decision maker, has asked you for it from everyone you're considering hiring? Or because of some other reason? The reason I'm asking you is... if you're the decision maker, I promise you that I know my own strengths and weaknesses, and also those of my competitors... and I know that in my field, an outline of what I'm going to cover is one of the worst possible criteria for evaluating the future success of a training program like what I offer." And then I hold up an outline anyway, just in case they demand it.

And I also say, before I hand over an outline, "If I show you this outline, I want you to know that IF I see a need to adjust my training on the fly to help your team achieve the stated objectives... then this outline becomes irrelevant. I'd throw it out. I promise you, that an inflexible reliance on a printed outline at the expense of the primary outcomes... is a sign of a deeply unqualified and inflexible trainer. So my ultimate question to you is, would you prefer an outline? Or better yet -- a list of specific outcomes I know I can and will achieve for your team, from a trainer with a history of successful results and extensive testimonials?"


I consider this approach an "acid test."  I do this because I genuinely want to know if the people that are considering hiring me have even an ounce of appreciation for the depth or levels at which I train.  The most progressive and interesting employers will recognize my total commitment to maximizing results, and welcome my refusal to blindly rely on an outline that in every case would have been written before I walked into the training room and met my students in-person, and learned of their unique strengths and weaknesses, and group dynamics.


But the companies that drop the need for an outline and are happy to accept a list of specific outcomes in its place, are the ones for whom I get most excited about training.



Author: Jonathan Altfeld