eLearning Leadership Blog

Join our growing community of more than 13,000 learning professionals!


3 e-Learning Design Steps to Avoid a Technical vs. Soft Skills Showdown

By Nicole Mellas,  Instructional Designer

A few months ago I conducted a webinar on getting more out of Subject Matter Expert interviews. Afterwards, I received many fantastic questions from participants. I answered a handful of them here. However, a few questions warranted a lengthier explanation. One such question was, “How does your process vary between technical and ‘soft skills’ training?”

The short answer: The process doesn’t really vary.

I suppose you’re thinking, “Hey, that doesn’t seem like much of a showdown. What a misleading title!” You’re be correct. It is a misleading title in terms of my actual message. However, everyone loves a showdown, right? Plus, I think many stakeholders (and even some learning professionals) do perceive a tension between the right way to teach technical skills and the right way to teach soft skills. Here’s the thing, though: We’re not doing ourselves any favors by clinging to the differences between tech skills and soft skills training. So, with this post, I would like to play the peacemaker.

The key point to remember is that the question at the heart of designing effective training is always: “What does the learner need to do?” Because the central question remains consistent, the process remains basically the same. It just takes on slightly different variations. 

Here are 3 steps to help you design effective learning events to avoid a skills showdown: 


1. Ask What the Learner Needs To Do 

Technical skills:

Ask a subject matter expert to walk you through whatever process you are trying to teach. If it’s a software issue, identify the key tasks and make sure you understand all the steps. If it’s a physical process, like cleaning a machine or performing a safety check, you’ll still want to observe the subject matter expert completing the process if possible.

Soft skills:

Soft skills may not be as easy to observe as the steps it takes to perform a refund in some point of sale software, but they are still observable. With identifying soft skills that learners need to perform, keep in mind that the “why” and the “how” are just as important as the what. 

2. Ask About the Most Common Mistakes 

Technical skills:

  • Where does the software cause confusion?
  • What steps in the safety check process are most often forgotten about or performed incorrectly?
  • Are mistakes happening because people are rushing or because they don’t understand what they’re looking for?

Questions about mistakes are fun to ask because they are the quickest way to get into your learner’s mindset. Once you’ve found out what the ‘powers that be’ say learners are supposed to be doing, it’s time to figure out why it’s not being done.

Soft skills:

Again, the specific questions will be necessarily different, but the goal of getting into your learner’s head remains the same.

  • Where in the sales process do new employees tend to falter?
  • What sorts of mistakes do doctors tend to make when explaining potential surgical procedures to patients?

3. Let Learners Practice 

Technical skills and soft skills: I’m not dividing this up because I really want to reiterate how this step is exactly the same. You’ve determined the context (maybe it’s a software program or maybe it’s a sales floor) and the thing that the learner is supposed to do in that context (dispatch a repair vehicle using proprietary software or use active listening to encourage a patient to participate in shared decision making). You also know what mistakes are most likely to occur. Now, all you have to do is figure out a way to let the learner practice. Let them try to do the thing you are asking them to do, and let them do it in a way that is as similar as possible to their real world working environment. That’s it.

By following these three steps, you’ll be able to design effective learning events no matter what kind of skills you’re trying to teach, and you can leave the showdowns for the Wild West and Monday night football. 


CLICK TO TWEET: 3 #eLearning Design Steps to Avoid a Technical vs. Soft Skills Showdown http://hubs.ly/H01nPJC0 #aiblog 



Subscribe to our blog