Let me tell you everything you need to know! Or not.

You’re going to work in Gorkonia! How would you like to prepare for the cultural differences? Do you want me to tell you everything and then quiz you? No? What’s the alternative? Learn more.

Let me tell you everything you need to know! Or not.

By Cathy Moore

Plane to ZekostanCongratulations! You've just been assigned to work with a design team in Gorkonia. You're leaving in a week.

Your Gorko colleagues know that you're coming from a very different culture and might have trouble fitting in. Luckily, they've developed some materials that help people from your culture prepare for working in theirs.

You can choose one of the following "Prepare for Gorkonia" packages. Which will you choose?

PACKAGE 1. A 56-slide online course in which a nice Gorko woman describes some cultural differences, bulleted tips appear on the screen, and you complete a quiz to confirm your understanding.

PACKAGE 2. A one-page PDF of tips, plus eight online branching scenarios in which you practice responding appropriately during typical interactions in the Gorko workplace.

If you're like most people, you want package 2, the PDF and scenarios. You can put the PDF of tips on your smartphone to review as often as you like, and the scenarios will help you practice applying the tips in a safe but realistic-enough setting. You'll be able to make mistakes in private and learn from them, instead of making them in front of your new colleagues.


Separate the info from the activity: It's the Gorko way

Your preference for package 2 will also reassure your Gorko colleagues that you share their views about design. They've moved away from presenting information in an "engaging" way and then testing recall.

Instead, they put the information in a simple format that people can easily refer to whenever they want. They focus their design time on creating challenging, realistic activities that help people practice the decisions they need to make on the job. As people try the activities, they can refer to the information.


Example: Greet your colleague

How do the packages compare? Let's look at how each package "teaches" a greeting.

PACKAGE 1: A nice Gorko lady appears as a talking head on the screen. "People new to the Gorko workplace are often surprised by our way of greeting our colleagues," she says in a pleasant voice. "Greetings are of course very important in every culture. In Gorkonia, we use greetings to show our connection to others by highlighting what we have in common. So when we greet each other at work, we identify a role that we have and that the other person also has, and we salute them from that role. For example, if you are an engineer and you are greeting another engineer, you would say, 'The engineer in me salutes the engineer in you.'"

The following appears as a bullet point on the screen: "Salute new colleagues using the job role that you have in common."

Eventually, you get to a quiz. One of the questions is, "How should you greet a new colleague?" and one of the options is, "Salute them using the job role that you have in common."

PACKAGE 2: The PDF has a section that looks like this:

New colleagues
Goal: Highlight what you have in common
1. Identify a job role or responsibility that both of you have.
2. Say, "The [job role] in me salutes the [same job role] in you."
Example: "The engineer in me salutes the engineer in you."

The practice activities in package 2 often begin with you meeting new colleagues. In one of the scenarios, you're a project manager, and your new boss introduces you to a team mate who's also a project manager. You have to decide what to say. You choose, "The project manager in me salutes the project manager in you," and your new colleague welcomes you warmly.

In another scenario, you're a quality assurance manager. Your boss introduces you to a colleague who's an editor. What should you say?

1. The quality assurance manager in me salutes the editor in you.
2. The quality advocate in me salutes the quality advocate in you.
3. The detail freak in me salutes the detail freak in you.
4. The team member in me salutes the team member in you.

You take the safe route and choose 4. Your new colleague gives you a decidedly cool welcome. You click "Why did this happen?" and see the following:

You've suggested that the only thing you have in common is that you're assigned to the same team. This can be interpreted a veiled insult. When you don't have the same title as your colleague, choose the most flattering responsibility or trait that you have in common. In this case, "quality advocate" would be best.


Look at the information or not: It's up to you

In package 2, you're not required to read the PDF before you start the activities. For example, you could ignore the PDF, jump right into the activities, offend people, click the optional feedback to find out what you did wrong, go back and make better decisions, and finally look at the PDF, treating it as a summary of what you learned through experience.


"The adult in me salutes the adult in you."

Your new Gorko colleagues think it's disrespectful to require grownups to all be exposed to the same information presentation, regardless of their prior knowledge. They think we treat adults like children when we tell them what to think and test them 5 minutes later to see if they can still think it.

Instead, your new colleagues base their design decisions on the following facts:

  • The people using the material are adults who have been learning from experience for decades.
  • They might already know some of what we're supposed to "teach" them.
  • Some of their most memorable lessons started out as mistakes.
  • Adults' self-esteem will not be squashed by a mistake in a training scenario.
  • When people struggle a bit, they can learn more deeply.
  • If people don't want to struggle, they can always look at the supporting information or optional help.
  • Well-designed scenarios help people prove that they know something while they also practice doing it.
  • [inlinetweet]We're in business, not education. We want people to do stuff, not just know stuff.[/inlinetweet]

Obviously, the examples were simplified, and both packages provide just a band-aid approach to cross-cultural skills. A more effective preparation would dig below the surface pleasantries to help newcomers see from the Gorko perspective. In that case, I'd argue that scenarios would become even more important, because they'd help people notice subtle cues and shift perspectives in complex social interactions.

Photo by Colby Stopa

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11 comments on “Let me tell you everything you need to know! Or not.

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  1. This is a great approach and I really love your Action Mapping resources. But when trying to design modules aimed at teaching basic skills in infection control and improving compliance with infection control guidelines to ALL healthcare staff, we have hit a stumbling block: Does it work for only a particular set of tasks for a particular target audience?
    Staff groups and settings in healthcare are so diverse (from doctors in hospitals to carers at home, dentists in a surgery to drivers and porters, receptionists and kitchen staff, nurses in care homes … the list is endless), that we struggle to come up with an action mapping approach that enables us to create materials that apply to all staff and all settings.
    If we create a specific example scenario, other staff will say “but that isn’t me”. Even if we create a selection of scenarios, there will always be staff groups or settings missing, and it will make the module really cluttered. Historically, we have actually adapted modules for different settings and have created a string of different modules, but we can’t afford this any longer.
    How would you adapt the above approach for a module (let’s say about hand hygiene) that needs to be for everyone? I think we are so worried about alienating certain staff groups that we got stuck and keep going back to “this is what everyone needs to know, and the exception for setting a is practice b, the exception for setting c is practice d …”, which is not what we want. Principles, decisions, actions, consequences, attitude is what this is about. We haven’t cracked it yet. Or is your approach just not for us?

    1. Sabine, thanks for your comment. You’re facing a very common problem. As you mention, once you’ve decided training is necessary, it’s best to design it for a specific audience performing a specific task in a specific environment. When you set out instead to create one solution for everyone, you’ll struggle to make it effective for anyone.

      If you haven’t already, you might first look for ways to reduce the apparent need for training. You might use this flowchart or a similar process to clarify why people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. For example, is there anything you can change in the work environment to improve compliance with infection control procedures? This can be things like making sure the hazardous waste container is always available and frequently emptied, putting up reminder signs, having managers emphasize the importance of compliance, and so forth.

      Also, is the problem mainly attitude? If so, what’s the source of the attitude? Lack of knowledge of what could happen, lack of skills (hard to imagine in this case because the skills aren’t complex), frustration with a difficult environment, managers who prioritize other things over infection control…?

      This analysis can reduce or at least focus the apparent need for training, reducing the amount of training you develop. In particular, if the main problem seems to be one of attitude more than the need to practice skills, you might reframe the project as an internal marketing need: “We need to light a fire under people so they actually follow the procedures and principles.” Training (imparting skills and helping people apply knowledge) might not be the best solution in that case. The solution could instead be an internal marketing campaign developed with the marketing department, who should have a lot of experience persuading people to act.

      If after that analysis, training still seems necessary because people need to practice skills or complex decisions, then I’d unfortunately suggest you do what you used to do: create scenarios for specific job roles. If this is an online course and I’m, say, a phlebotomist, I’d choose my job role from a list (ideally as short as possible) of job categories, and I’d see the scenarios that are applicable to me. A receptionist would see different scenarios. There could easily be some scenarios that apply to everyone, so there’d be overlap, but there would still be scenarios specific to job roles.

      Continuing to assume an online course: You could probably remove most of the usual information presentation from the course and make it available in a simpler form, ideally by providing the real-world job aids, such as images of the reminder signs that appear in the workplace. Then the focus of the course, and of your design time, would be realistic practice activities. The activities would let people learn from experience and practice making good decisions in a safe place, and people’s performance in the activities would show you how well they seem to be able to make the right decisions.

      The story in this sample chapter from a draft of my book actually addresses this situation, in a simple, fictional way.

    2. Hi Sabine

      In your Infection Control example, I’d consider/investigate presenting a learning activity from the perspective of a common entity across many settings — in this case the infection’s perspective. This is opposed to looking at how a specific target group of medical professionals would operate within a specific setting. The bacteria always does the same thing, it’s people that are fickle!

      I.e. it’s the ‘learner’ against the infection, regardless of who the learner is or the real-world setting. E.g. A Staf bacterium is on a tap handle, on a bed, on a hand…. The Bacterium presents its case, “I’m here, this is how I work, this is the damage that I can cause, I don’t like this, I do like this, what are you going to do about it?”, and the learner must take steps to deal with it/mitigate its effect or spread in that slightly generic setting and using a standard Action Mapping kind of approach.

      By taking a slightly alternative perspective, you may ‘dilute’ the specific targeting of a real-world group or setting, but you may be able to cover a wider group or setting with best practice within a single module.

      I’m not saying that this would always work in all settings, but it may be worth looking at in some circumstances.

      Just a thought.


      1. Thanks Pete, My thinking was that we need to focus on the principles of how things work, and not the specifics or specific settings, so your thought goes in the same direction. If people understand why there are different types of gloves for different types of jobs, then eventually they will be able to select the right glove type for the right job themselves. Rather than looking at a glove selection chart, which they then forget again after two minutes.

        I like your idea with the infection perspective. This might work for a module about the chain of infection and I will run this past the content writer and the rest of the team.



    3. I work for a healthcare organization as well and have the same challenges with a case manager course. There are over 50 specific types of case managers – from social workers to nurses. The problem I need to address is that some may call themselves case managers, but they are currently not doing all the duties they’re supposed to be doing.

      There is a nine-step process that is universal – but the ways in which the steps are performed will be different based on the type of case manager. The eLearning focuses on the universal aspects of case managers. I’ve included a Word document with a variety of case studies that learners can use after the course is complete, with key discussion points to discuss with their supervisor. The case studies were too specific and too lengthy to be included in the eLearning, but I thought they would still be a useful tool for the learner, because they can still see “themselves” in the studies.

  2. Hi Sabine

    I can explain what our approach is and some of the thinking behind it.

    We find that in a lot of topics there’s a core of things that everyone needs to know, we make videos which explain this part. But of course that’s not the whole picture. There will be other parts of the learning which are ‘local’, specific, and so on. How this is delivered really depends on which is the best ‘tool’ for the job. It could be a simple PDF, a face-to-face session, mentoring, role play, discussion – for us it’s not that one is better or worse than the other, it’s about the most effective solution for the situation.

    We break down learning objectives into four areas: knowledge, skills, attitude and awareness (more here: Using the hand washing example, being able to wash your hands correctly is one thing (skill, knowledge), but getting people do it is completely different, it’s behavioural, or attitudinal. People know that smoking and drink driving are dangerous, but they still do it. Many people complete the annual compliance training and then continue as if nothing had happened.

    The best solutions to this that I’ve seen are multifaceted approaches, where, for example, there might be some training, followed up in a performance review, revisited six months down the line, a video sent round by the CEO and so on. The idea being that ‘washing hands’ or whatever it is, becomes part of the culture – that’s the way things are done around here. A good example is how attitudes have changed to smoking. Now if someone lit up in an office, I think pretty much everyone and anyone would feel they could ask the person to put it out.

    1. Hi Andy,

      You are right, implementation and a multi-faceted approach is always very important. Compliance training can’t just be completing an online module, especially if attitudes and long ingrained behaviors are involved.

      I’ll see if I can adjust our local action mapping template with your suggestion. I only have a box for the problem definition, but if I include “knowledge, skills, attitude or awareness”, it might open people eyes a bit more to the fact that there are different types of problems.


  3. As always spot on! I’m actually trying to setup some basic templates for the ‘Pdf part’ so that people can create that content easier than they can full e-learning programs of the ‘click-next’ variety! Getting some excellent feedback from our local trainers and subject matter experts!

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Yes, templates would be great. I have a large project over the next two years, so we have to work efficiently. This could save us some time!

  4. I created a course for a major software company. I had to make the audience understand the use of the software tools in their daily teaching-learning activities (the target audience was K12 teachers). At one point I had to show them how to use the latest version of email tool…I actually created a Show Me and Try Me on ‘sending emails’!! I am embarrassed now 😐
    I should have just added a scenario and told the audience to send the email instead of showing them how to do it! It must have been so irritating for them to be taught how to send emails!