An effective understanding of how to design high-involvement training programs is a necessary competency of master trainers. In this article, we will describe how master trainers approach the task of designing high-involvement training for adults. We believe that by strategically structuring learning sessions, a trainer can align applicable principles in such a way that benefit both the organization and the individual trainee.

Preparing to Design

First, it’s important to address your available resources, in order to identify what concerns you need to consider when designing your training. The following are examples of different elements worthy of exploring:


  • How many will participate in the learning session at any given time?
  • How many levels within the organization will be represented?
  • How well acquainted are participants with each other?
  • How much previous training have they received on the general topic?
  • What percentage of the material am I familiar with?
  • To what extent is their attendance voluntary?
  • How much valuable, relevant work experience will they bring to the training?
  • What opportunity will there be for participants to apply what they learn?
  • How will participants be selected?
  • How will they be introduced to the goals and objectives of the learning session?
  • How much support and reinforcement will the organization give them to improve their work effectiveness?


  • Are there qualified co-trainers available for the learning session?
  • To what extent can managers be used as instructors during the session?
  • To what degree is adjunct staff able to be used during instructional methods?
  • Is someone delegated to coordinate the work of the instructors?
  • Are learning session instructors accountable for the quality of the experience?
  • What credibility do staff members have on the session’s subject?
  • How interpersonally compatible are the staff members?
  • Can we afford to hire externals as part of our staff?


  • How much time can be allotted to the learning session itself?
  • Can the time be compressed or must it be spread over several sessions?
  • How much participant pre-work is feasible?
  • What will be the length of the daily sessions?
  • Will there be a “jet-lag” factor to consider in the opening session?
  • Will the session need to be completed in time to accommodate participant travel?
  • Is the time enough to reasonably expect to achieve learning session objectives?


  • How much material is readily available for the learning session?
  • To what degree must materials be adapted or prepared for the session?
  • To what degree must we seek permission to duplicate copyrighted material?
  • Will there be word processing, printing and copy support available?
  • Is the training site conducive to the sort of interactions needed in the session?
  • How adequate are the audiovisual supports (projectors, flip-charts, equipment, etc.)?
  • How much money is budgeted to support this learning session?
  • How can computers aid in conducting the learning session?
  • Are there films, slides, and overhead transparencies available on the subject?
  • Are there organizational and/or community sites available to visit during the learning session?

After evaluating these factors, you can start to take steps toward designing your training program. These steps are arranged in a sequence that we favor.

  1. Assess the learning needs of the target audience. Carefully gather data about the perceived learning needs of potential trainees, from their perspective. Evaluate their current jobs, their potential future opportunities, and their organization’s expectations.
  2. Identify the resources you have available to plan and conduct the program. Research the barriers to obtaining resources, and note concerns that arise in the process.
  3. Assess the learning styles of participants and instructors. Participants differ in how they acquire information and how they interact with each other. If possible, take a learning-style inventory prior to the session to determine the most effective approaches. There are many instruments available that are designed to assess learning styles.
  4. Establish program objectives. What are the learning outcomes you intend to produce? Our bias is to state these generally to allow for learning through discovery.
  5. Reflect on principles of adult learning and their implications for session design. One major fault of amateur trainers is that they talk too much. Carefully reflect on the principles outlined before designing your high-involvement training.
  6. Select appropriate training technologies for each objective. Choose from among the myriad of training materials that fit the identified needs of trainees, instead of simply selecting your “favorite” activities.
  7. Prepare a time chart for the learning session. Arrange the learning session on a one-page chart if possible. This helps to allocate time according to content and plans. It’s also a helpful tool to consider the cumulative effects that training activities can have on participants’ energy and attention levels.
  8. Decide how much time will be given to each primary objective. This step gives you the opportunity to consider how much time to delegate to the highest priority objectives. It also allows you to reconsider the feasibility of achieving the learning objectives.
  9. Arrange the content into topical blocks. There should be some logic to the program’s sequence. It’s almost always useful to present the rationale for the sequence in the opening session, in order to provide a cognitive roadmap that can guide participants.
  10. Plan “mid-session evaluation” activities. It’s to be expected that the training will not always go as planned. Adjustments will be necessary. If possible, involve trainees when determining the changes in the training content and process. Usually, this involves soliciting feedback from them whenever accommodation is necessary.
  11. Emphasize the opening and closing sessions. The first module is important because it sets the standards for behavior, empowers participants to manage their learning, and initiates the sense of community within the group. The last finishes “unfinished business” and inspires participants to apply their new knowledge and skills.
  12. Strategically incorporate “energizers” where participants are likely to drag. A change of pace or fun activities can enliven even the dullest technical training. They are particularly appropriate when trainees are sleepy or otherwise lethargic.
  13. Arrange applications-planning activities. A master trainer wouldn’t wait until the final hours of training to engage the participants in application principles. Each training activity should lead to a consideration of two vital questions: So what? Now what?
  14. Fill-in activities to cover all objectives. It is useful to ensure that the sequence of events includes variety, in order to achieve each objective.
  15. Schedule staff sessions to review and modify the design. During the program, the staff needs to plan to review the design’s effectiveness and to redesign as needed. We also believe that these sessions should be open to participants, or at least to observers.
  16. Solicit feedback on the design before the session. This step is intended to help us to cover our “blind spots” related to designing and conducting training. It is almost always useful to get feedback from a trusted colleague on the design.
  17. Prepare and assemble materials and equipment. This involves the development of handouts, slides, overheads, computer presentations, etc. They should be prepared and duplicated, so that they are professional and consistent in appearance.
  18. Conduct level II outcome evaluations. We believe Kirkpatrick’s (1994) four levels of training evaluation are still valid. You should downplay the importance of end-of-learning-session ratings (“smile sheets”) in favor of more scientific approaches to determine the training results (Jones, 2000).

Master trainers have the confidence and resourcefulness to use these steps when arranging training sessions to produce desired results. Whether the training is catered to workers, managers, church members, teachers, or any other adult audience, master trainers carefully consider these steps when designing learning sessions. The key is high involvement; the more adults are invited to actively participate during the training, the more likely they are to apply what they learn after the event.


Jones, J.E. (2000) Don’t Smile about Smile Sheets.

Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1994). Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels. San Francisco CA USA: Barrett-Koehler Publishers.

Source by Doug C Watsabaugh