Scenario example: Chainsaw training!

What’s the best way to teach people to cut down a tree? Probably the best way isn’t the approach recommended in this scenario. However, the scenario isn’t supposed to be realistic. I wrote it to make a point.

Try the scenario below. Do you agree with my point?

(The scenario is embedded in the blog post. If you’re reading this in email or a feed reader and don’t see a clickable interaction, go to the blog post to play it.)

Photo by Stewart Black cc. Scenario was developed in Twine.

Spoiler alert! Play the scenario before you read on.

If you’re familiar with action mapping, you probably saw what I was trying to do. The best ending to the scenario required you to do some (extremely quick) analysis of why it’s hard to cut down a tree without squashing your house or car.

The analysis asks, “What decisions do people have to make? Why are those decisions tricky? How can we help people practice making the decisions in a safe place?”

Then your design focused on helping people practice the tricky things that would directly support the goal of reduced property damage. You didn’t push information into their heads and then see if they could recognize it on a test.

Of course, it’s important for customers to know the obvious stuff, like how to hold the saw when you’re cutting into a tree. We’d certainly cover that in the videos. Unfortunately, it’s tempting to focus only on that obvious stuff. The result would be “How to Use a Chainsaw” and not what we really need, which is “How to Use a Chainsaw without Destroying Your House.”

I learned to cut down trees the way most people probably should: A more experienced person went into my woods with me. He helped me analyze each tree, set up the winch and rope, plan the cut, and adjust when things began to veer horribly out of control. But if that weren’t possible, I’d look for training that let me practice the decisions in a safe place.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

More scenario examples

I’ve set up a scenario design headquarters on my site. In that section, you’ll find more scenario examples, along with a research summary, a link to all scenario posts, and some tips on using Twine, the free editor I used to create the scenario in this post.

Related posts

For more on letting people learn from their mistakes, you might check out these posts:

Do you work in a course factory? Do you care?

Are you a cog in the course factory, or are you a performance consultant? Where do you or your clients fall on the following spectrum, and where do you want to be?

(Feed readers, there’s a table here! It might appear at the end of the post in your feed reader.)

Course factory


Performance consultancy

My job is to create training. ————– My job is to improve the performance of the organization.
I shouldn’t question the client’s decision to provide training. ————– Since my job is to help the client solve their performance problem, I need to determine if training really is part of the solution and identify what else might help.
The only thing I ever design is training. ————– I might design job aids, create help screens, identify ways to streamline processes, encourage managers to provide stretch assignments, push for better communication tools…
My goal is to transfer knowledge. ————– My goal is to solve a performance problem, and the best way to do that isn’t clear until I analyze the problem. Maybe it has nothing to do with knowledge.
The best way to transfer knowledge is to push information at people so they’re all equally exposed. ————– If information really will help solve the problem, I look for ways to let people pull it when they need it. Training might not be necessary at all.
Training is an event, like a one-time course or workshop. ————– If I decide a practice activity will help, it might be just that — an activity, not a course, delivered in any format, maybe in a live session, maybe as part of a “try it when you want” collection of online challenges, and preferably as part of a series of activities spaced over time.
Once the training has been delivered, I’m done. ————– If the performance measure has improved, I’m happy, but I’m not done. I need to talk to the people affected by the project to find out what’s working and what isn’t.
When I finish one project, I wait for the next request to come in. ————– I notice problems and suggest solutions before someone asks me for help, because I know what my organization is trying to accomplish.


Two opposing sides?

Industry gurus have been pointing out for some time that L&D needs to stop being a course factory and become more of a performance consultancy. Sometimes they express their opinions with such zeal that it can feel like they’ve divided us into two irreconcilable groups: We’re either marching onto the bright consulting field waving the flag of the latest workplace learning model, or we’re stubbornly hiding in the basement, cranking out irrelevant courses.

Cranking out the courses in the basement factoryI agree we need to become more of a performance consultancy. In fact, I think some new models of workplace learning don’t go far enough, at least as I understand them. They correctly and importantly remind us that people learn in a million ways, regardless of our “help.” They give less attention to making sure that learning will actually solve the problem.

If we’re going to be performance consultants, we need to identify all barriers to performance. We can’t assume that knowledge and skills will help.

I also don’t think we’re divided into two opposing groups. Instead, I see a spectrum.

I’ve talked to many people who want to leave the course factory behind but have trouble seeing how they could actually do it. Some have to fight their organization to take just one step because their job title is literally “Course Producer.” To climb out of the basement, they have to drag the dead weight of their department with them.

In the title of this post, I asked, “Do you care?” Most people I’ve heard from care. They know that cranking out courses on demand doesn’t meet the real needs of the organization. They just need help finding a way out of the basement.

For a lot more about why we need to move toward performance consulting, see The Business of Corporate Learning by Shlomo Ben-Hur. Jane Hart has a recent series of blog posts on what she sees as a stark division in L&D, starting with this post. In this interview, Donald Taylor sees the L&D world as divided not into two sides but four regions on a quadrant.

Looking for feedback on my book

If you’ve read this far, you might be interested in giving me feedback on my upcoming book. Map it: The hands-on guide to strategic training design offers a step-by-step process to help training designers leave boring courses behind and instead find the best solutions to performance problems. It’s action mapping all grown up. I’m looking for 30 people to read a PDF version and complete a survey about it, so I can make the book as useful as possible.

Map It helps you find non-training solutions to problems. And when training is part of the solution, it helps you design challenging practice activities that can be provided in any format, not just in courses or training events. It shows you one way to start climbing out of the basement and to bring your client or boss with you.

I’ve been using it with my scenario design courses and plan to publish it in early 2016.

I’m looking for a cross-section of my intended audience to be beta readers. If you’re interested in participating, please fill out this quick demographic survey. (Thank you, everyone who responded; the survey is closed now.) From the responses, I’ll pick 30 people to receive a PDF version of the book. The first survey requires your email address so I can send you the book if you’re chosen; the second feedback survey will be anonymous.

If you just want to know when the book is published, sign up for the announcement list. You’ll get an email when the book is available, which should be in early 2016.

Finally, before we go back to our places on the course assembly line, let us sing in solidarity with our fellow workers who are hauling out the data on the Xerox line.

Factory worker photo by Howard R. Hollem. Public domain; US Library of Congress.

How to respond to learning-style believers

“What do you mean, I shouldn’t accommodate people’s learning styles? You can’t tell me people don’t learn differently! I see it in the classroom all the time!”

Maybe you’ve heard that from a classroom presenter (I have). Or maybe you’ve heard this from a client:

“Be sure to include narration for the audio learners! And add lots of drag-and-drops for the kinesthetic people.”

The rare and neglected accordion learnerLearning styles have been popularized by well-intentioned people, including possibly your professor of instructional design. However, the claim that we have to adapt our design to accommodate different learning styles has been repeatedly debunked by research.

Then why do people cling to the belief? Let’s look at one reason why learning styles are so appealing and how we can respond to the believers on our team.

First, the research

These resources link to or summarize research that debunks learning styles:

Debunk carefully — morals are at stake!

The myths that put people into special categories, such “visual learners” or “digital natives,” have a powerful emotional appeal. As a result, questioning them can backfire. I’ve certainly received some impassioned responses, and I know that some of you have, too.

In Urban Myths about Learning and Education, the authors suggest that these myths could be a type of moral panic. In a moral panic, believers claim that there are stark differences between groups of people and that only moral people care about these differences.

Emotions can run high thanks to the believer’s moral commitment. For example, imagine that I believe in learning styles and I’m a member of a team on an elearning project. I notice that no one is planning any narration, so I say earnestly, “Don’t forget the auditory learners!” Someone else says, “Oh, that’s all been debunked.”

I’ve never heard that before. How might I respond?

“Are they saying I’m an idiot?” I think. “I’m not! I care about the learners! The team is just finding excuses to take shortcuts. They don’t care about the learners like I do!” So I fight back, maybe by debating learning styles or just resisting others’ ideas.

This is the “worldview backfire effect,” according to the authors of The Debunking Handbook, available for free from

How can we respond?

One way to avoid the backfire effect could be to frame your disagreement in a way that doesn’t threaten the believer’s moral position. That way, you can keep their emotions from rising and clouding their thinking.

For example, you might first acknowledge the believer’s compassion and then offer alternatives that meet even more important needs, so agreeing with you won’t harm their position as someone who cares about the learners.

You can also offer an alternative explanation for the situation that the myth is intended to explain, or suggest that the people who originally promoted the myth did so for their own profit, both techniques recommended by research cited in The Debunking Handbook.

For example, if you have a learning-style believer who wants redundant elearning narration “for the auditory learners,” you might say the following:

“That’s an important point. We need to consider how people’s preferences might affect their learning.”

  • This acknowledges the believer’s compassion while reframing learning styles as preferences.

“For example, research shows that people learn best when they can control the pacing, which is actually hard to do if we use a narrator for everything. So if we added a narrator for the subset of people who prefer narration, we’d take away the control over pacing that everyone needs. If we made the narration optional, we’d still have to spend a lot of the budget on it, which reduces our ability to use techniques that everyone needs.”

  • We’re suggesting that the believer’s compassion can be extended to even more people by letting go of the focus on one group.

“Unfortunately, much of the research that seems to support learning styles was done by people who sell the learning style inventories or otherwise profit from them. Independent research doesn’t support the idea of changing our approach to accommodate learning styles, but it does say we should give everyone lots of practice over time. Since there’s more research support for spaced practice, it would be most effective to use our budget to design more practice for everyone instead of hiring a narrator for a few.”

  • We suggest that the myth was created by someone for their own purposes, sucking all the compassion out of it, and then build up the believer again by giving them a different way to show their compassion for the learners. Of course, the alternative approach could be anything supported by research, not just spaced practice.

I’m saying that all learners are exactly the same. Not.

Some learning-style believers say that science fans like me just want to turn learners into robots, denying their individuality.

I say that the best way to honor people’s individuality isn’t to shove them into simplistic categories so we can pour information into them, but to provide them with the respectful support they need to drive their own learning, at their pace. And if we use techniques that independent studies show actually work, we’re respecting learners’ time and showing true compassion for their needs.

I’ve focused here on just the “moral panic” appeal of learning styles. I think they’re appealing for other reasons as well, including:

  • They’re fun like a Facebook quiz is fun. “I’m a visual learner!” Or maybe you’re the rare and neglected nasal learner.
  • They make intuitive sense. Of course we all have different strengths and learning preferences. What’s not supported is the claim that we need to adjust instruction to match learning “styles.”
  • It’s currently popular to put people into categories of all types, so learning styles fit into a larger trend — says I, the high-D INTJ “overachieving” myopic height-advantaged asparagus avoider and bad singer.
  • They’re easy. Simple rules like “Add pictures for the visual learner” are easy to apply. It’s “hard” to use more effective design approaches, such as designing realistic practice activities or helping learners gauge their own progress.
  • A belief in learning styles encourages people to use a wider variety of media in their instruction, which when done well is a good thing. However, pointing out the invalidity of learning styles doesn’t mean, “All instruction must be text!” That’s a false alternative. The content and nature of the task should determine the media. The authors of Make It Stick sum it up this way: “When instructional style matches the nature of the content, all learners learn better, regardless of their differing preferences for how the material is taught.”
  • Learning styles are still being taught by some instructional design programs.

What has been your experience? Why do you think learning styles are still popular? What works for you when you’re faced with a colleague or client who wants to accommodate learning styles? Let us know in the comments.

Write a strong goal: Sell it to Scrooge

A pile of Euro coinsWhen a client says, “My team needs training,” they might not realize it yet, but they have a bigger goal in mind. That goal is the real reason the project has to happen.

Unfortunately, it’s common to develop training with the wrong type of goal. Below are some typical goals. They all have a big blind spot. What are they missing?

  • Salespeople will know all the product features.
  • Managers will handle difficult conversations better.
  • Everyone will use the new software.
  • People will be aware of the dangers of the internet.
  • Leaders will help people adjust to big changes.

If you had $40,000 and someone asked you to spend that money on any of the above goals, what would you say?

Here’s what I’d say: “What will I get in return?”

A business goal is the “What’s in it for me?” for the organization. It justifies the existence of the project in business terms. None of the goals above clearly shows what’s in it for the organization.

Let’s see how it works with the first goal, “Salespeople will know all the product features.”

Sell it to Scrooge

Imagine that I’m a C-level type in a widget company and I’m sitting behind a tidy pile of $40,000.

A training person, let’s call him Bob, comes to me and says, “Give me that $40k, and in return, salespeople will know all the product features.”

“What, can’t they read the product brochure?” I say, wrapping my arms around the money.

“Well, yes, but they’re not selling our widgets as well as they could,” Bob says. “Our mystery shoppers say that the salespeople just sell the micro widget. They ignore the mega and mongo widgets even when they’re the best widgets for the customer. We have a reputation as cheap widget-pushers.”

“So tell them to sell more mega and mongo widgets,” I say.

“But we don’t want them to sell the mega or mongo if it’s the wrong widget for the customer,” Bob says. “That goes against our mission and will hurt our brand.”

“You want this money,” I say, “so you can help salespeople identify the best widget for the customer?”

“Yes, that’s it,” Bob says. “I guess just knowing the features isn’t enough. They have to develop the skills to identify the customer’s needs and then match the features to those needs.”

“And then what will happen?” I say. “How will I get my $40k back?”

“Sales of mega and mongo widgets will go up,” Bob says. “Since we make more profit from those than from the micro widgets, we’ll make more money.”

“And…?” I say in my most annoying tone, still gripping the money.

“And our reputation will improve, helping our brand,” Bob says. “Overall sales could go up and we could gain market share, because we’ll become the widget company that really listens. Everyone else just pushes widgets.”

“All right,” I say, reluctantly peeling $20k off the pile. “Here’s some money. Let’s see if you can show a 5% increase in mega and mongo widget sales by fourth quarter. If so, we’ll use the rest of the money to expand what you’re doing and see if we can gain market share.”

What changed during the conversation?

Bob’s goal started as this:

  • Salespeople will know all the product features

It ended as this:

  • Mega and mongo widget sales will increase 5% by Q4 as salespeople identify the best widget for each customer

Bob now has a way to measure the success of his project, at least in the short term, and it’s a measure that benefits the business as a whole. His new goal justifies the expense of the project.

Bob’s new goal also shows everyone involved in the project that he’s serious and is going to measure results. It shows that “training people” like Bob play vital roles in the success of the organization.

Imagine the training that results

A good business goal helps you sell your project to Scrooges like me, but it also has a profound effect on the type of training you develop.

Bob’s original goal was “Salespeople will know all the product features.” What would have happened if I were out of the office and someone gave Bob all the money without challenging his goal? What kind of training would he create?

Bob’s revised goal aims to increase sales of specific products by having salespeople identify the best widget for each customer. How did the new goal change Bob’s approach to his design?

See what happens next

I’ve continued the story on a separate page to keep this post short.

If this seems like something out of a book, that’s because it is. I’m writing a book on action mapping, and it should be available in the next couple of months. I’ll be sure to announce it in the blog.

Scenario design course starts soon

My four-week, online scenario design class starts on April 21. I’ve added a second session scheduled for the Americas because the first is nearly full. Find out more.

Photo: aditza121 via Compfight cc

How to be a learning mythbuster

“Wait, we can’t design the training that way, because Zeus will rain down fire as punishment!”

You might not hear that particular myth, but I’ll bet you’ve heard many others. Here are the most popular myths I’ve heard from learning designers and their clients.

Chart showing high percentage of people believing myths about learning

Oh, those numbers in the chart? They’re just an estimate based on my experience. They’re not real.

They’re like the numbers that someone tacked onto a graphic created by Edgar Dale, magically turning it into a “scientific” and unfortunately misleading “truth” about how much we remember, as Will Thalheimer thoroughly shows.

Putting science-y numbers on concepts is just one part of a larger problem we face: We let unfounded beliefs influence us.

It’s a cultural problem

Why do myths flourish in our supposedly science-based profession?

I like to use a flowchart to analyze performance problems. If we were to use the flowchart to answer “Why do training designers make decisions based on myths?” I think we’d find that the main problem is an environmental one:

We work in organizations that believe harmful myths. We’re pressured to work as if the myths are true, and we can’t or don’t take the time we need to keep our knowledge up to date and combat the myths.

Stand up to the client

We need to change this cultural problem, and one of the first steps is to politely stand up to the client who believes in the impending punishment of Zeus. “I understand your concern,” we might say. “Luckily, research shows that Zeus doesn’t actually exist and has no opinion about our training.” We back this up with a link to an easy-to-read summary of research showing the non-existence of Zeus.

For example, let’s say we have a client who believes in learning styles.

“Learning styles are real,” they say, “and we must design the training to accommodate them.” This has been debunked repeatedly yet stubbornly lives on. It’s one of the most common excuses for inflicting slow narration on elearning users. What can help us debunk this?

  • This PopSci article is a quick, entertaining read and could be a good one to send to the client.
  • Learning styles: Worth our time? links to two major debunking studies and highlights techniques that work better. It might appeal more to learning geeks.
  • Here’s an excellent roundup of opinions from L&D luminaries, from Guy Wallace. It might help convince people who need to see that many experts argue against learning styles.

It’s also helpful to dip into research compilations in our spare moments. For example, the extensive PDF report Learning to Think, Learning to Learn organizes research into specific, plain-English recommendations that are easy to read in short bursts. It’s aimed at people who teach remedial courses but applies to all types of adult learning design.

For research specific to elearning, I always recommend e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer.

Expose myths to the sun

Another way to weaken myths is to clearly state them, to bring them into the light and ask stakeholders, “Is this really true?”

For example, here are some beliefs that affect our ability to design effective training. What would happen if we had our stakeholders stop and consider whether they’re actually true?

  • If there’s a performance problem, training must be the solution.
  • Training is a one-time event or course.
  • Training means putting information into people’s heads.
  • Our job is to make this information easy to understand and remember.
  • We should first tell people what they need to know, and then give them an activity so they can check their knowledge.
  • We shouldn’t let learners make mistakes because that would demoralize them and they’ll only remember the mistakes.
  • We shouldn’t let people skip stuff they already know because they probably don’t really know it.
  • We should measure learning with an assessment right after the training.
  • If we’re designing elearning, it should look like a slide show. No one will learn from a normal web page with scrolling.
  • If we’re designing elearning, we should have a narrator talk through the slides because no one will read.

I could go on (and on!) but you get the idea. A lot of assumptions drive what we do, and we need to clearly identify and question them before they steer us in the wrong direction.

What are the most damaging or stubborn myths that you’ve seen? Have you been able to fight them effectively? Let us know in the comments!

Jan. 28, London: I’ll be giving a talk on writing effective scenario questions at the Learning Technologies conference.

I’m hard at work on a self-paced course on scenario design. Life intervened and delayed my work for awhile, but the material will be available early this year. You can sign up to be notified when the course is ready.

3 ways to save gobs of time when designing training

Everyone wants it yesterday. So how can we deliver on time? Here are three possibly bizarre ideas.

1. Don’t design training

This hamster would like you to read the policy.Does the client just want everyone to be “aware” of the hamster sharing policy? If so, your best bet might be to send everyone a link to the policy with the message, “Read this policy, and share hamsters according to its rules.”

If you have the marketing department send the email, they can track how many people opened it and clicked the link to the policy. If they know what they’re doing, they can even tell you who clicked the link and who didn’t, and who read all three pages of the policy and who wandered off after page 1.

In fact, the marketing department can help you write an email that will make people want to read the hamster-sharing policy. They’re experts in this stuff.

2. Design super-targeted training

Most people who say “My team needs training” are making a ton of assumptions. They jump to conclusions about the problem (“They need to understand!”) and the solution (“They need training!”).

If you let their assumptions drive what you do, you’ll waste time creating more training than is useful or effective.

Your secret goal is to find non-training solutions to the problem. To do that, you invite the client to a quick needs analysis discussion, which you’ll disguise as a meeting to “help me understand the problem.”

Then you’ll run this type of kickoff meeting, walking your client through the first few steps of action mapping.

The meeting will help your client see how changes to tools, new job aids, and other non-training interventions can solve the problem.

If still you end up designing training, it will probably be shorter and more targeted.

3. Focus on challenge, not bling

In elearning we’re tempted to make up for the lack of human contact with an avalanche of irrelevant stock photos, narration, and flying bullet points.

I harp on this constantly, but I’ll say it again: An intriguing, challenging activity often works perfectly well as text. In fact, once you start adding media, you can actually damage an activity, as participants in my upcoming scenario design workshops will see.

Think text can’t hack it? Learn some handy phrases in the imaginary language Zeko in an activity that relies 99% on text. Or see if you can guide the AutoLoon L&D department to the best solution to their performance problem, undistracted by cheesy stock photos or narration.

I can already hear people saying, “But what about learning styles?!” to which I say, “Learning styles are bunk.”

Wind turbine breakaway view

An actually useful image

Obviously in many situations more time-consuming media like video, animation, and audio are absolutely necessary. Try understanding how a wind turbine generates electricity without seeing at least a breakaway illustration of its innards. Even better, the right image can eliminate the need for text.

But what I see far more often is pointless, time-wasting bling applied to a boring presentation.

If we’re expected to produce “content,” we have a choice:

  • We could spend a couple of hours writing challenging, bling-free decision-making activities that help people learn through experience, or
  • We could build a bunch of slides to present the content, and then spend several more hours searching for non-gag-inducing stock photos to add “eye candy,” creating slick transitions to “keep the learner’s interest,” recording unnecessary narration because we can’t expect people to read, and fussing interminably with the timeline to make the narration track properly with the flying bullet points.

Unfortunately, our employers often expect bling. One way to win them over to a more powerful but less bling-infested approach is to show them several examples of challenging, thought-provoking materials designed the way we think would work best.

What do you think? What has helped you create powerful training in a short time? Let us know in the comments.

How to kick off a project and avoid an info dump

Course factory workerDo you feel like you’re an assembly line worker in a course factory, expected to crank out training on demand?

Break free of the assembly line with a strong kickoff meeting that puts you in charge of the design. Here are some ideas on how to start a project in a way that will avoid an information dump and win the happy obedience of your stakeholders.

We’ll go into detail and practice these techniques (and more!) in the workshop I’m giving in London on June 6.

What’s the first step?

The next time someone drops a pile of PowerPoints in your in box and requests “a course,” respond with a request for a meeting “to make sure I understand what you need.” Two hours is usually enough.

Who should be included in the meeting?

The minimum participants are you (the designer), the person who asked for the training (the “client”), and one or preferably two subject matter experts (SMEs) who are familiar with how the job is currently done.

Depending on the situation, you might also want to include someone who recently learned to do what’s about to be trained and any stakeholder who could veto the project.

What’s the format?

I recommend you use action mapping, so a whiteboard or a laptop with mind-mapping software and a projector will be helpful. I’ve done these meetings remotely, with a shared screen on a webinar platform, but in person I’d prefer a whiteboard and sticky notes.

What’s the goal for the meeting?

Your secret goal for the meeting is to confirm that training really should be part of the solution, and if so, to avoid creating an information dump.

The reason you give to the participants is something like, “To design the most effective training, I need to understand the problem really well.” Put yourself in the role of the eager yet ignorant outsider and don’t directly challenge the client’s assumption that a course is the solution.

How do I start the meeting?

Give a very quick overview of the process, maybe saying something like the following.

  • We’ll use a quick process that helps me understand in detail what you need people to do, so I can design relevant and challenging activities.
  • We’ll start by stating a measurable goal so we’ll know when the training has worked.
  • Then we’ll specify what exactly people need to do to reach that goal and why they’re not doing it, so we can find the best way to change their behavior.
  • The result will be interesting, relevant training that will clearly contribute to the organization’s goals [if possible, add or suggest “and make us look good”].

It might be best not to mention the content at all beyond saying that you’ve reviewed what you’ve been given and need to understand the situation better before you can start designing the “course.”

Then what?

With all the meeting participants, follow the first steps of action mapping, which have been expanded a bit in the last year.

  • Identify a goal that captures in a measurable way why the training is important to the organization (“Improve employee retention 15% by Q2 of next year,” not “Respect diversity”).
  • Expand the goal to identify the audience and give a general idea of what they’ll be doing (“Employee retention will improve 15% by Q2 of next year as mid-level managers follow the new policy on diversity”).
  • Identify specifically and concretely each action that members of the audience need to take to reach the goal (e.g., “Avoid assigning minority employees only to minority clients,” not “Be color-blind”).
  • Prioritize the actions — identify the most egregious problems.
  • Use the flowchart to identify why each important action isn’t always performed correctly, and gently resist stakeholders’ attempts to blame everything on a lack of knowledge.

Be sure to go through the flowchart

Last year I added a flowchart that can dramatically change how stakeholders view the problem and its solution. The more specifically you apply the flowchart, the better your results.

For example, don’t say, “So why do you think managers aren’t respecting diversity?” Instead, focus on each individual action, for example, “Why aren’t managers disciplining people for making offensive jokes?”

If stakeholders blame a problem solely on a lack of knowledge, gently push back. For example: “Okay, you’re saying managers just don’t know that they should discipline people for making offensive jokes. I’m wondering if there’s something more complex here, like maybe the managers know they’re supposed to discipline people but aren’t comfortable providing the discipline. Do you think that might be happening?”

The stakeholders will likely agree and might propose ways to solve that problem. If they don’t come up with their own solutions, you might suggest one, again posing it as a question: “Do you think it could help to give them some sample wording to use for typical situations and let them practice?”

Let the stakeholders see the best solution for themselves

Questions are far more persuasive than advice. Keep asking questions until the client or SME sees for themselves that an info-dumping “course” isn’t the best solution. Let them see how job aids or a change in tools could solve the problem without training, and let them notice on their own that a lot of the content they provided isn’t necessary.

You’re saying we can do all this in just two hours?!

You can get a very good head start in just two hours. I can usually get through setting the goal, identifying the most problematic actions, and identifying why those actions aren’t being performed correctly.

You may need to work a bit after the meeting with a SME to finish analyzing the problem. However, brainstorming activities and identifying which content to include aren’t part of the kickoff –they’re your job.

You might want to include a SME later when brainstorming activities, but make sure to keep tight control so the activities are realistic and challenging and the content is as minimal as it can get.

How can I justify the time required?

If you get resistance to the idea of a two-hour meeting, point out that it will likely result in much more concise, efficient training.

For example, a course that the client expected would require four hours for the 1,200 learners to complete might be reduced to some powerful job aids and one hour of very targeted activities. This saves three hours x 1,200 learners or 3,600 hours, thanks to the two hours invested in the kickoff meeting.

Practice with this scenario!

Try this branching scenario to practice running an action mapping kickoff. Can you win the client while avoiding an information dump?

London workshop on June 6

Join me and Norman Lamont in London on June 6 for the one-day, hands-on workshop “Training design for business results.” You’ll get in-depth practice applying these skills and many more to one of your projects. Learn more about the workshop.

How to create a training goal in 2 quick steps

A measurable business goal is a great way to focus your training and show how your work helps your organization — that’s why it’s the first step in action mapping.

Unfortunately, most clients don’t have a clear goal, so here’s a quick formula that can help you connect what they want with what’s good for the organization.

1. Choose your numbers

Identify a measure that the organization is already using that your project could help improve. Once you have that, decide how much you’ll improve it and by when.

Some examples:

  • “We need sales training” — Sales will increase 5% by Q3
  • “We need diversity training” — Employee retention will increase 8% by 2015
  • “We need training on conflict management” — Grievances will decrease by 10% in two years

Obviously, the best measure will depend on the organization and its current strategies.

2. Identify in general terms what people will do

Your goal from step 1 could be enough, but it can help to add a second layer and mention in general terms what your audience will do differently.

Some examples:

  • “We need sales training” — Sales will increase 5% by Q3 as all sales people use the 5-step Customer Courtship Model
  • “We need diversity training” — Employee retention will increase 8% by 2015 as all employees better manage diversity
  • “We need training on conflict management” — Grievances will decrease by 10% in two years as team leaders better manage conflict on their teams

Formula to create a measurable business goal for training

By making goals like this, we’re not promising that our project alone will be responsible for the change in numbers. However, we’re making clear that our project is directly tied to an important measure that affects the performance of the organization and we’re serious about designing a solution that works.

When you involve the client and subject matter expert in setting this goal, you also start to turn their attention away from knowledge and toward changes in behavior. This can help loosen their obsession with information and save your audience from another ineffective information dump. It also makes it easier to suggest more agile solutions than training.

Claim your place in an Australian workshop — time is running out

Learn how to set these kinds of goals and design lean, powerful elearning in a full-day workshop. Seats are strictly limited to 30 so we can get deep into applying what you’re learning to one of your projects. These will be hands-on workshops. Thanks to the E-learning Network of Australasia for organizing the events!

Melbourne, Nov. 26: Act quickly to sign up for Tuesday’s full-day workshop on elearning design. Sign up here!

Sydney, Nov. 29: There are still some places available in Friday’s session. Claim your spot!

Three simple but powerful ways to get love from your leaders

Business leaders love their L&D departments! Well, maybe 20 percent of them do.

“Survey after survey has repeatedly shown that the proportion of business leaders who are satisfied with their learning function’s performance is around 20 percent,” write the authors of a recent article in The European Business Review.

I love you! You're so relevant!“Last year, a survey found that more than half of managers believe that employee performance would not change if their company’s learning function were eliminated,” Shlomo Ben-Hur and Nik Kinley tell us in the article. “If corporate learning is to retain what remains of its credibility, something needs to change and it needs to change fast.”

But what, exactly, should change? Here are some of the authors’ suggestions:

  • Focus on behavior change, not learning
  • Act like a performance consultant, not a manufacturer of training
  • Rigorously evaluate how your projects improve performance

What might this look like in practice? Here are some ideas.

1. Start with a measurable end in mind

Before you design any training, set an observable, measurable goal that describes a specific improvement in business performance that your project will help create. Not “People will be aware of the dangers of computer viruses” but “Intrusions by malware in our systems will decrease 60% by Q4.”

This is the first and most important step of action mapping but is also the step most likely to be skipped. Often the client doesn’t want to commit to anything measurable or can’t clearly describe the performance problem, yet they expect us to forge ahead and crank out training.

My suggestion: Disobey! Swear allegiance to the L&D manifesto. Squeeze a measurable performance goal out of your client to protect your learners from useless training and your job from irrelevancy.

A quick way to get at a goal is to ask the client, “What are you measuring now? What numbers tell you that there’s a problem?” And if they insist that they just want “awareness,” here are some ways to respond.

2. Make sure training is actually the right solution

Walk your client through this flowchart to make sure that you identify the best solution for each aspect of the problem. If you throw training at a problem that can’t be solved through training, you’ll look impressively busy, but the measures that matter won’t change.

3. Use an evaluation method that tells you how to improve

Knowledge assessments and satisfaction surveys don’t show whether your project improved the performance of the business, and they don’t tell you how to do it better next time. Instead, take a look at Robert Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method. Tom Gram clearly summarizes it for us.

Unlike a flat survey, Brinkerhoff’s method digs deeply into specific cases, examining both learners who succeeded in improving their performance and those who didn’t. As a result, you get a much more detailed picture of what works and what doesn’t, giving you the information you need to create real, visible results. For details, see Brinkerhoff’s book, The Success Case Method: Find Out Quickly What’s Working and What’s Not.

Thanks to Steve Rayson at Kineo for discussing the article and bringing it onto my radar.

Photo: Victor1558

Australian workshops shaping up

Here’s a reminder that I’ll be in Australia in late November 2013. Keep an eye on the workshop calendar to find out what’s been confirmed, and if you’d like to schedule your own workshop, let me know.

Learning & development people unite!

Manifesto for training designers
We, the downtrodden and ignored learning and development professionals of the world, hereby shake off the shackles of convention and obedience and proclaim the arrival of a new order, a new age of enlightenment in which we valiantly defend truth, honor, and our learners by… well, by not being such pushovers.

We refuse to pretend that training is always the answer. When a client says, “We need training,” we don’t say, “Sure! Would you like fries with that?” Instead, we start asking questions.

We require clients to set a measurable goal. We help each client identify exactly how the organization’s performance is suffering and how our project will measurably, observably, provably improve that performance, because we’re here to make a difference, not to put 97,000 PowerPoint slides online.

We rejoice in the power of needs assessment. Oh needs assessment, you faithful but tragically neglected guardian of time, money, and learners’ souls, we welcome you back into our profession and with eager minds ask you for each and every project, “What do people need to do?” and “Why aren’t they doing it?”

We advocate for the rights of the humble job aid, email, and PDF. If the problem is caused by a simple lack of information, we show the client how a nimble solution placed in the workflow can avoid the expense and tragedy of a 107-slide presentation pointlessly read aloud by a talking avatar whose lips really move.

We design activities, not information. When instruction is part of the solution, we don’t preach or present to learners. Instead, we let them practice what they need to do and draw conclusions from that experience like the grownups they are, and for that reason we rock scenarios.

We stand firm in our belief that learners have brains and should be allowed to use them. We fiercely protect our learners’ time, minds, and souls from clients’ whims, information dumps, patronizing narration, “learning styles,” office politics, “motivational” training, SMEs’ favorite details, locked navigation, “awareness,” feeble multiple-choice questions, “knowledge transfer,” “knowledge checks,” academic learning objectives, flying bullet points, and alien abductions.

We are legion! Here are just a few of our noble warriors, in no order whatsoever.

There are countless more brave warriors helping us rise up from oppression and cry, “Doormats? Never again!” Please let us know about your favorites in the comments.

Scenario design online course

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