Orientation Case Study Two


This orientation had a lot of source material to use, but very little existing structure. We established the challenges with and goals for the orientation program, and then completely remade it to reach those goals. The extensive updating and customization needed, combined with a desire to shorten the in class time, led me to develop a skills-focused in class curriculum with a complementary theory driven online portion. This, combined with cutting unnecessary speakers, help us dramatically streamline the whole process. In the end, the volunteers completing the new class are markedly better prepared to start their work than previous classes.

Training Goals for This Training

This orientation had a lot of source material to use, but very little structure. It turned out to be more of a new design than a redesign once we started. The goals were to create an orientation program that was:

  1. Updated to include the past decade of best practices.
    1. The source materials for this training hadn’t been updated in almost a decade, and much of the information was significantly older than that. The agency wanted to update the information included, and add several sections that had become relevant since the last revision.
  2. Customized to the processes and needs of the agency.
    1. Although the point of this training was to prepare new volunteers to work within a particular court system, the training was created by a national organization. This meant that the process and many of the specific skills were very general. All customization had been done verbally by the trainer, with no complementary activities, visuals, or other learning aids. The agency wanted the training to prepare their new volunteers for the specific tasks they would be doing.
  3. Much shorter and easier to run more frequently.
    1. The original training called for 35 classroom hours, much of which was group reading out of the source book. This made it difficult to recruit volunteers, because the initial training was so burdensome to anyone with other obligations (like work or family). It also involved many speakers from the community – some of whom started their sections by stating that they weren’t really sure how their information connected to the job at hand.
  4. Started the skill acquisition process.
    1. The original training was designed to cover as much information as possible. It started with theory, and moved on to examples. It never really made it to practical skill building – in part because it wasn’t specific to this agency, and in part because there was so much theory and background information that could be covered. The agency wanted the new volunteers to have the skills they would need to be successful.

What I Did to Meet Those Goals

  1. Updated to include the past decade of best practices.
    1. The first step was to cut everything that was no longer relevant or true. This included removing a variety of materials and speakers that had been needed to fulfil grant requirements for grants the agency no longer received.
    2. Once this was done, we made a list of everything that the volunteers were expected to do, and compared it with the training. There were several key jobs that were never or only lightly covered in the curriculum. I created new sections and activities to address these key functions.
    3. Finally, we compared the training to current industry best practices (such as Trauma Informed Care), and identified gaps. Then I created sections and activities to address these gaps.
  2. Customized to the processes and needs of the agency.
    1. The original training addressed key activities, like writing reports, in a very general way. The agency wanted the volunteers to learn how to do things the way they would be expected to do them, like write the reports they would actually be writing. I created curriculum, scaffolds, and activities to prepare the volunteers for their specific work.
    2. The agency also wanted the volunteers to leave training with a specific idea of how their processes and procedures work. I developed tools and incorporated them into the training material.
    3. The agency uses a specific electronic records system that the volunteers rely on heavily in their work. I developed a training module and supports to help the volunteers learn how and why to use this system.
  3. Much shorter and easier to run more frequently.
    1. The first step was to prioritize the skills and information, to figure out what they really needed to know, what would be nice to know, and what was extra. All the extra was cut.
    2. All the nice to knows were reworked into a self-study portion that is completed online.
    3. All the need to knows were expanded into full, multi-modal, live units, then organized to create a strong learning flow.
  4. Started the skill acquisition process.
    1. Most of the “need to knows” were skills the new volunteers would need to start using quickly. I broke each of these skills down into digestible parts, and created worksheets or other prompts to help the volunteers learn to do them successfully as quickly as possible. Each skill unit was followed by an activity that makes them use their new skill. Each new skill built on the previous skills. This combination of tactics helped move the information into their long term memories.


The most important outcome is that the volunteer supervisors all agree that the volunteers come out of training more confident and needing less coaching. They are able to dive right into their work.

The new orientation program I created was significantly shorter, and relied on fewer outside people. This meant that it is easier to recruit volunteers for, and easier to schedule. The agency has already started offering many more classes, and more custom options for their community partners.

Finally, the consensus from the volunteers is that they really enjoy the new class and feel very prepared. While we cannot say for sure until more time has passed, it seems likely that this new orientation program will increase retention.