Instructional Design for Volunteer Training

instructional design

Lately I’ve been researching the world of instructional design. I’ve been specifically trying to find a way that it can be used for improving the training of volunteers.

What is instructional design?

Basically, it sets out ways to ensure that students gain the most knowledge and understanding from a given training.

There are a number of different methods (or “taxonomies”) of instructional design out there. The most well-known – and the one that I like most – is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Granted, I may like it because of a website that explains it using clips from the TV show “The Big Bang Theory”!

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a six level framework for classifying different types of learning objectives, each building on the last. It can be a useful tool for training volunteers in a wide range of organizations. Here’s how it works:

Remembering:

The first level of Bloom’s Taxonomy is “Remembering,” which involves having the volunteer recall information they already know, and associating that with the new information. In a seniors home, for example, a trainer might remind volunteers about their basic first aid training, before going on to discuss the specific emergencies that are common to the home.

Understanding:

Level two is “Understanding”; comprehending the meaning of the information that has been learned. In other words, taking it in at a gut level rather than just by rote. For instance, if volunteers know why a certain procedure is used, they are more likely to remember and embrace it. Telling before and after stories is a really good way to build understanding.

Applying:

The third level is “Applying,” where the volunteer actually uses the information that has been learned. Practice makes memory! It also increases confidence. By doing a specific thing, rather than being told about it, a volunteer is vastly more likely to both remember all the steps and become confident in their ability to do it.

Analyzing:

Next is “Analyzing,” which involves breaking down the information and identifying patterns or relationships. In a homeless shelter, for example, volunteers may need to analyze data on the effectiveness of different interventions. We have the information, now what can we learn from it?

Evaluating:

Level five of Bloom’s Taxonomy is “Evaluating”. This means making judgments about the value of the information that has been learned as it relates to a specific situation. Here’s an example. An animal shelter has trained their volunteers to always put dogs into the outside run when cleaning the kennels. The community, though, is undergoing a massive heatwave and the run doesn’t have shade. Should the dogs go outside as usual, or should the instructions be altered?

Creating:

The sixth and highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy is “Creating”. It involves having volunteers use the information that has been learned to create something new. For example, in a homeless shelter, volunteers may need to create new programs or services to meet the evolving needs of clients. Taking the knowledge that they have been trained in, volunteers can come up with programs that meet the clients’ new needs.

Instructional design takes some thought.

As you can see, you need to actually plan out each step as it relates to the information you’re trying to get across. Obviously, some things may not need as much attention, but as you can see from the level five example, even simple things can benefit from applying the various levels.

Using this formula can also help you see the possibilities in using volunteers at their highest capacity. If you include aspects of “Evaluating” and “Creating” in your training, you start to see volunteers as more than just unpaid labour. The process almost forces you to see them as people who can make independent decisions, and who may even be able to help you improve your program.

So here’s a challenge for you.

Pick a process that you need to train volunteers for. Think of ways that you can include each of the six levels in your training. What previous knowledge can you have them build on? Do you have stories that you can tell that will help them understand the value of the information? How can they break down the information to see and learn from the trends? What situations can you suggest where the rules may need to be changed? What new things could the volunteers create using the information they’ve learned?

By structuring training programs around the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (or some other instructional design method), organizations can ensure that volunteers are effective in their roles. Not only does it improve the quality of volunteer training, but it also empowers volunteers to take on higher responsibilities and, in turn, increase the organization’s impact on their community.

Have fun, and let me know if you need help!