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Writing Training Materials that Work.

Writing Training Materials that Work, by Wellesley R. Foshay, Kenneth H. Silber and Michael B. Stelnicki, Book, 2003, Pfeiffer & Company, $60.

Sometimes staff professionals write training materials without realizing they are doing the work of an instructional designer. At worst, they write lectures using hundreds of PowerPoint slides and pass them off as training presentations.


At best, they apply new technologies such as virtual classrooms and web-based authoring tools to teach critical content to employees and customers. Chances are that these training developers don't know that applying sound instructional design principles could make their task easier.

Enter Writing Training Materials That Work, a comprehensive book that teaches instructional designers the foundation skills and models for writing meaningful instruction. It is a one-volume course in developing instruction for adults using research-proven methods. The book can substitute--or serve as the required text--for a college-level instructional design course. The caveat is this: You'll need patience and motivation to slog through the dense text and lackluster graphics.

What's in it?

The book is divided into three parts. In the first, Introduction to the Cognitive Approach, the authors argue that taking a cognitive approach to training adults is more effective than the traditional behavioral approach.

They claim that the behavioral approach that many instructional designers use might help change learner behavior for better on-the-job performance, but the cognitive approach goes one step further. It increases the learner's ability to retain, apply, and transfer learning to new situations without the need for retraining. In case you have an instructional design background, the authors' thesis expands on Gagne's nine events of instruction and Dick and Carey's cognitive training model.

To train adults using their approach, the authors want us to understand the differences in types of knowledge: procedural and declarative. Even though they clearly explain the different types of knowledge within those categories, I found myself needing a patience pill to get though the section.

Practically speaking, will instructional designers, working against tight deadlines, take the time to distinguish between the procedural knowledge types--well-structured, moderately structured, and ill-structured problem solving--when they are teaching problem-solving skills? Reality aside, the authors make a case for recognizing the differences in the types of content we teach, and for that, it's worth hanging in there.

Part 2 covers how to design lessons using the cognitive approach. It offers concrete "how-tos" for:

* Beginning lessons

* Organizing and presenting information

* Teaching facts

* Teaching concepts

* Teaching principles and mental modules

* Teaching well-structured and ill-structured problem solving

* Teaching troubleshooting

* Teaching complete lessons

This part of the book is great for practitioners who want a structure to follow that's sure to include all the required elements for teaching a particular chunk of content. The accompanying CD contains useful templates for writing a lesson plan on these topics.

Each template includes examples for applying the following lesson elements that are at the heart of this book:

* Select the information to attend to

* Link new information with existing knowledge

* Organize the information

* Assimilate the new knowledge into existing knowledge

* Strengthen the new knowledge in memory

Part 3 covers the research issues behind the cognitive approach to learning. To the authors' credit, they state upfront that this section is theoretical in nature and geared towards the needs of the instructional technology graduate student and scholar. Practitioners can benefit from the analysis of the differences between behavioral and cognitive approaches if they want to build a case for changing the instructional design approach in their organizations.

How good is it?

As an instructional design consultant, I was hoping this book would be a quicker read in the spirit of a resource guide or workbook. Many times the sections read like lectures for a university course. Although the chapter structure is instructionally sound, the book would have benefited from more interactive sections with questions, quizzes, and updated stories that reinforce the content.


Writing Training Materials that Work is ideal for the instructional design student or anyone interested in the theoretical underpinnings of teaching adults for maximum learning. The job aids are a big plus, and the overall content of the book is excellent, especially if you don't have a background in training models and adult learning theory. You'll just have to bear with the slow pace and dull examples.

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Wellesley R. Fosha ...

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Review by Elizabeth Thaler-Barger.
Product Ratings

Writing Training Materials that Work

Holds user interest * 1/2
Value of Content *** 1/2
Self-Study Value ** 1/2
Instructional Value **
Value for the money ** 1/2
Overall rating ** 1/2
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Thaler-Barger, Elizabeth
Publication:Training Media Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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