Using instructional design for training volunteers

A volunteer training method

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 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 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. Consider an animal shelter that 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," which 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.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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