The Second Time Should Be Better: Instructional Design and Active Threat Assessment Training

It is hard to teach a first class for the first time. There are exercises and activities that don’t work, assignments that contradict the lectures, and things take more time than expected.  Planning ahead of time, knowing our goals, and figuring out what went wrong (and fixing it) are essential parts of the training process. They also make sure the second delivery goes better than the first.

Instructional Design and Threat Assessment Training

Any new training we develop should take into account the basic tenants of instructional design (ID), including analysis, design, development, and evaluation. Instructional design helps us create a training road map and serve as a guide to knowing how to fix things when there are problems. A formal instructional design process allows for the development of rigorous and effective training.

You get training from many sources – your own in-house training staff, training academies, private companies, or government entities. Understanding instructional design and trying to view the training your people get in the light of good instructional principles will help ensure they are getting consistent and effective training.

Let’s think of an example where training isn’t consistent. Your personnel in the academy are likely taught by many different instructors on topics ranging from policy and procedure, to defensive tactics, handcuffing, and driving. Your recruits should also be taught in a way that ensures everything is coordinated - but what if it is not? What if classes on policies and procedures do not match what is taught in the handcuffing class? That is the stuff of complaints and lawsuits.

More About Instructional Design

There are many different models of instructional design – the Addie Model, Merrill’s Principles of Instruction, Gagnes Nine Events of Instruction, and Blooms Taxonomy to name a few. But don’t get lost here, the underlying tenants of these approaches have a focus on allowing the development of consistent, effective, efficient and reliable training (Gustafson and Branch, 2002).

One of the earliest instructional design models is ADDIE. ADDIE has four components:

  1. Analysis – identifying the need or problem the training is trying to address;

  2. Design – establishing measurable objectives and a process to meet these objectives;

  3. Development – prepare student and instructional materials; and

  4. Evaluation – assessing the course to see if it met objectives and revising as needed.

Instructional Design Cycle and Threat Assessment Training

These models are iterative and cyclical with constant data collection, updating, and revision. (It makes me think about the intelligence cycle)

One important principal of instructional design is learner-centered training; the focal point of the training should be performance of the trainee. This performance should also be real-world – helping the trainee to successfully perform a skill they use in their job; not focus on rote memorization. The instructional methods (lecture, group activities, online testing) used should be those that best help the trainee learn that skill.

All makes sense, right?

Here is an example. At Second Sight we offer online active threat assessment training. In our courses, trainee repeatedly practice and gradually develop their observation skills. First, we have them systematically observe. Then they begin to look for deviations, only after repeated exercises are they actually trying to identify an active threat. We found this gradual skill development was effective in teaching systematic observation and baselining in our instructor-led course. This gradual approach was developed based on data we collected during our deliveries and feedback from our trainees. We subsequently implemented this same approach in our online courses,

ID Leads to Evaluation

Instructional design also helps us have a specific goal or skill in mind when we develop and deliver training. These assessment metrics allow us to collect empirical skill-based data throughout the training process. Data which can be used to revise and adjust the training. These formally stated goals help us to evaluate if the training did what it was supposed to. Or, in other words, did the trainees learn the skill you intended them to.

For example, in our active threat assessment courses one of our specific goals is for trainees to learn to systematically observe their environment and assess a baseline. Our exercises and activities are tied to training on that skill. Our practical exams evaluate whether or not the trainees can successfully use the skills that they learned.

Learning from Experience


Personally, I had no idea about the benefits of working with an instructional designer until I had the opportunity to partner with one in the creation of the 40-hour Identifying Threats training program we developed as part of the Just Doesn’t Look Right Project in coordination with the Global Peace Operations Initiative at US Southern Command. It was amazing to work with someone who could help us identify our training goals and meet them in a way that engaged our trainees, allowed our trainees to practice our active threat assessment techniques in real world scenarios, and improve based on lessons learned. I would highly recommend it.

The Cost-Benefit of ID

Training, whether online or instructor-led, is expensive. Time your officers spend training is time that they are not working. Your people might also be getting paid overtime, which increases the costs even more. Instructional design helps ensure you are spending your resources wisely.

When you identify training that might be relevant to you or your officers, it would make sense to ask questions about the goals of the training, the process to meet those goals, and how the instructors determine if the training is successful. Some of the training for your agency might also be developed in house by your officers. A formal instructional design process might not necessarily be feasible for in-house training, however your trainers should incorporate the underlying principles of instructional design when developing new training or as old courses are updated.

Planning and preparation is essential. Instructional design helps with that. Contact us if you would like to know more about our instructional approach or our online or our instructor-led active threat assessment courses.


Gutierrez, K. (2018). A Quick Guide to Four Instructional Design Models. Shift E-Learning. Obtained February 2019 from

Gustafson, K.L. & Branch, R.M.. (2002). What is instructional design?. Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. 10-16. Obtained February 2019 from

Nathan Meehan Ph.D.