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David Collins' Design Narrative: Transforming Defence Media Training

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David Collins
29 March 2013


I was the training development officer at the Defence Media Operations Centre a few years ago.  Although student feedback was positive about the training we were delivering, there was a view from above that our students were not being adequately prepared to work with the media (journalists, broadcasters etc) on operations. This view was also supported by anecdotal feedback from various theatres.

My role was to re-design the training in order to “up-skill” the people leaving our courses.


Prior to my involvement the existing introductory media course was 4 days in length and ran once a month. It was heavily power point based, with little student interaction and no assessment.  Essentially it was an attendance only course that required negligible student engagement with the subjects being taught.

Additionally there was demand from the 3 Services to increase the number of trainee places from ~280 to 380 per year.

We had plenty of workspace, reasonable IT infrastructure and a motivated teaching staff.

I was told to change the training and make it look different.  There was also a certain amount of political pressure from above to transform the training.

The key people involved were our senior managers who had assured the policy makers in London that the training would be significantly improved, the training deliverers and me as the training designer.  We were a small team of about ten people with a fairly flat management structure. There was some concern from the training deliverers that we did not have the resources to continue delivering the existing course whilst developing the new course.


My task was to manage the creation of a new course that would:

  • Lead to better prepared people working in media operations.
  • Look very different from the previous power point based course.
  • Be sustainable in terms of resources (training staff and equipment).
  • Be cost neutral.
  • Have buy-in from the training delivery staff.
  • Be supported by senior managers and satisfy the needs of the policy makers in London.

My measures of success were:

  • To have consistently good feedback from theatre that the training was relevant and effective in providing people with the necessary skills.
  • To receive positive comments following observations of the training from senior managers and policy makers.
  • To have commitment and ownership from the teaching staff (the new course was going to be a collaborative effort – not just my design work).
  • To receive comments from students and staff suggesting that they enjoyed the training and were motivated by it.


In short my actions were as follows:

  • Analyse a media and communications competence framework (CF) using a series of tools (including Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes analysis) to produce initial learning outcomes and assessment criteria.  Although I am an advocate of CFs, they are often ambiguous and require interpretation – this work was painful but I had the support of the person who developed the media and communications CF – so we ended working together (she was the subject matter expert and I was the designer).
  • Sell my new vision for the course to the training staff and senior managers.  I was proposing a solution that introduced syndicated working, more practical work and formal assessment. This was going to generate additional work for the training delivery staff.  Lectures would be reduced to a minimum and no single lecture would last more than 30 minutes.
  • Co-ordinate the development of the course by giving the training staff responsibility for producing course content (that was guided and bounded by the learning outcomes that I had already produced).  This involved me working closely with the trainers to make sure that we achieved an appropriate balance between lectures, discussion and practical. This involved a lot of group work where people talked through their proposed lessons/learning activities and the rest of us peer reviewed.
  • Ensure the course was properly documented.  I was responsible for the curriculum design (included learning outcomes and learning methods and media), the assessment strategy and specification, and the course timetable. The trainers drafted the lesson specifications and lesson resources – I then quality assured these products to ensure consistency and coherence.  This required firm but fair diplomacy as nobody really enjoyed formally documenting their lessons (to a standard that could be used by others including new training staff).
  • We ran a pilot course and encouraged the students to give us their detailed feedback so that we could adjust and improve.


The resulting course was 8 days long (double the length of the previous course).  This required a compensating reduction in other course which was possible since the new course covered similar material (but in a different way). 

By making better use of our real estate we increased student numbers from 24 to 32 students per course.  The majority of the course was delivered in syndicates of 8 students.  This required an increased staff input but was welcomed as the staff found the new course more enjoyable to deliver.

The feedback from the students during and after the course was positive. There was now a buzz about the place – in particular the students were up for the challenges the course gave them (including formative and summative assessment). None of us had envisaged the improvement in student motivation.  Whereas most students just went through the motions on the previous course; we found that they were far most enthusiastic and genuinely interested during the new course. 

Importantly after a year of running the new course, the number of instances from operations criticising the training (from trainees, line managers etc) had fallen markedly.


The main points that I learned from this experience are:

  • It is important to engage with people at all levels in the organisation.  I could not have produced such an improved course alone – I needed to collaborate with other people who had the subject matter expertise.  I had the vision of what I wanted the course to look like but I could not see the finer detail.
  • Give people the freedom to be creative but challenge their ideas when they fall outside the design boundaries.  Remain flexible and be prepared to compromise.  Allow people to take ownership of the lesson material and content they were developing.
  • Think about project management and how to stick to agreed timescales.  Time scales for some of the deliverables slipped.  This did cause knock on problems when we approached our ready for training date.

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