Many RTO owners and trainers are thrust into the vocational industry with little knowledge of instructional design or resource development. Due to limited budgets, owners may attempt to develop their own internal resources, assign resource development to their trainers or buy poor quality off the shelf resources. I would dare say that almost every VET trainer has in some way directly or indirectly developed learning resources.
On top of that, many underestimate the time it takes to design and develop a highly effective learner guide that uses the latest technologies and is learner focused. In today’s post, we’re going to give you a crash course in learner guide design that you can use to help you create better training resources.
What is a learner guide?
A learner guide is a text document, similar to an e-book or textbook, which contains all the necessary theory, content and knowledge related to a specific topic. Developing learner guides internally is very time consuming but possible. Most RTO’s choose to purchase existing textbooks or learner guides from publishers or commission external resource developers to create customised learning resources.
Consider the objectives of the unit
The first step in developing a learner guide is to identify the objectives or outcomes of the unit. Consider what students need to do in order to be successfully competent.
Consider your student audience
Prior to developing and organising the unit content, you need to consider your student audience as this will influence the design of your learning materials. Think about:
- who your students are
- their background, age, gender mix
- their English language level
- their learning styles
- the learning environment (classroom, online or blended)
- whether they have existing knowledge
- reasons for learning
Your goal is to design a learner guide that meets the AQF level, unit of competency requirements and the learning needs of your students. Remember that a learner guide serves to support the student’s learning experience and cannot replace face to face training or trainer engagement. Additionally, trainers must use a range of learning support strategies and support material such as presentations, handouts, video and demonstration to train students.
Gather your content
- Use the unit of competency as your guide, however, don’t feel forced to write in the same sequence as the unit of competency
- Create a rough outline of the chapter and topic headings based on the elements, performance criteria and knowledge evidence
- Do a brain dump from various sources of content such as your own experience and knowledge of the topic, any existing content, scour electronic books, blogs, newspapers, journals and videos. Avoid copying directly from various internet sites or Wikipedia.
- Reach out to subject matter experts to collaborate with them on the best way to structure the content logically so that it’s consistent with the objectives or outcomes of the unit and the real-world
Tools to develop learner guides
- If you’re using a Windows PC, then your best bet is to use MS Word to develop your learner guides
- Mac users have the benefit of using Apple Pages, which I love for its simple design features. Pages also easily converts documents to MS Word format
- Alternatively, you can use Google Pages which works very similar to MS Word and can be saved directly in your Google Drive
Writing your content
The main focus is to understand the content and communicate it clearly, efficiently and effectively to your student.
- Rewrite the content into plain English and avoid using VET speak (the jargon/terminology used in the unit of competency and training packages)
- Talk directly to the student in a friendly but informative style, using an active voice
- Use gender-neutral language, correct spelling, grammar and punctuation
- Rely on linking words to maintain flow between paragraphs
- Don’t always rely on MS Word’s spellchecker, use a free tool such as Grammarly
Designing your content
Designing is not just about making the learner guide look visually attractive. The goal of the learner guide is to provide valuable information to students by breaking up the content into digestible chunks in a logical sequence. A well-designed learner guide should not distract the student but rather enhance the learning experience by communicating content visually.
- Use short sentences, bullet points and paragraphs to break up content
- Each paragraph should contain one idea or concept
- Write for skimming and scanning by using headings and bold text
- Use white space to control clutter on the page; there is no need to cram lots of text onto a page
- Use smart font choices that are easy to read in print and online
- Use font sizes of 12 point at least and no smaller
- Insert 1.5 line spacing or double line spacing
- Develop a consistent style to use throughout the guide
- Present data in a variety of visual formats using images, tables, charts, diagrams or Smart Art
How long does it take to develop a learner guide?
Quality learner guides and resources can’t be created overnight. Whenever I feel pressured into developing learner guides quickly, I ask clients if they want fast and cheap or quality. Allocate at least two weeks to develop a decent learner guide including proofreading and editing.
Elements of a learner guide
Table of Contents
A document with a table of contents not only looks more professional but also provides students with clickable links to chapters and topics. Using the styles feature in MS Word, allows you to easily populate the headings into a clickable table of contents.
Start by providing a brief summary of what the unit is about and identify what the student will be able to do after completing the unit. Explain the skills and knowledge that will equip the student to perform the expected outcomes of the unit
- Consider a hierarchical approach to presenting the learning content
- Determine rough chapter headings
- Developers often use the elements of the unit of competency as chapter headings
- Don’t be afraid to reword the elements for clarity
Topics and sub-topics
- Commonly the performance criteria represent the topic headings
- Determine which content is primary and secondary
- Describe the core concepts of the unit and show the relationship between the core concepts
- Link core concepts to real-world examples, case studies or problems
- Knowledge evidence can be incorporated into topics or sub-topics
- Check to see where knowledge evidence is required to support the performance criteria
- On occasion, you may need to create standalone chapters to present knowledge evidence
The purpose of learning activities is to assess student’s ability to apply theory and practice their skills through real-world problems, case studies or problem-based scenario’s. Include a range of activities that allow students to understand concepts, apply concepts and reinforce concepts. Classroom trainers can use formative activities to provide opportunities for social learning and collaborative group work.
Provides a short overview and recap of the chapter by emphasising the core concepts and skills the student should be able to do. A brief lead into the next chapter helps to promote cohesiveness.
Ready to develop your first leaner guide? If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know where to start, download our free learner guide template to help you easily and quickly create your first learner guide. Or if you don’t have the time to develop your own resources, speak to us about helping you create custom student learning materials by getting in touch.