One way or another, it’s been decided: your department needs some training. You do what you’d normally do: boot up Storyline, create some slides packed with great content, throw in a few assessment questions (how else will you know they actually learned something?), and send it out into the world… only to get crickets in response.

Maybe you get some course completions, perhaps some learners even ace the assessment, but a few weeks later, it’s like nothing ever happened. You might wonder: Why did I ever spend so much time doing this? And so the learning and development existential crisis begins.

It happens. And while things were never that drastic for our team, we’d recently been looking for a little learning inspiration. After all, we’re always itching to take a step back and think more strategically about how we can help our clients. As we were looking for some resources to dig into, we found one name that kept popping up: Cathy Moore.

Moore, a training designer and thought leader within the learning space, is known for creating the action mapping process, which provides a framework for analyzing learning problems and providing the right solutions to those problems. Map It by Cathy Moore summarizes that process, and based off what we read—including the stellar reviews we found online—we knew we’d found something worth looking into. Book club, anyone?

Because our team believes in true cross-functionality—and continuous learning—we opened the club up to the whole company. In Map It, Cathy Moore is writing primarily for instructional designers, but we had everyone from designers to account managers sign up and take part, all looking to get inspired by her ideas. 

Over the course of a couple months, our team met every few weeks and engaged in some truly fruitful discussions. Here’s what learned, what we loved—and what we’re doing differently.

What we learned from Map It by Cathy Moore

We’re not about to give away all of the secrets in Map It by Cathy Moore—seriously, buy the book!—but we were left with some great takeaways. Ultimately, our two favorite concepts came down to two things: that learning isn’t always the best solution and that well-written scenarios can provide great opportunities for learning.

Learning isn’t always the best solution

It feels almost blasphemous to admit it, but sometimes, the thing your learners need most isn’t a learning solution. Shocking to think about, isn’t it? But consider that scenario above. How many times do you push training out just because it feels like it’s the right thing to do, not necessarily because there’s a solid reason for the learning? For instance, you might have a new product launching, which means your salesforce needs to undergo training to learn the ins and outs of the product.

Map It by Cathy Moore turns this idea on its head, and it’s one of the things covered in the book. Instead of forcing a learning situation, take a step back and look at your business as a whole. Identify the business problem, and brainstorm all the ways you could meet that problem.

And consider what’s affecting the learner: is it their environment, their motivation, or their knowledge that’s getting in the way of your goal? Asking these questions, you might find that learning should be part of the solution. On the other hand, you might find that it shouldn’t. That salesforce who’s responsible for selling the new product? Maybe they don’t need a 30-minute eLearning course. Maybe they could get by with some sales aids and a quick group huddle. The point is—figure out what the real problem is and find the right solution to that problem.

When learning is the answer, go for scenarios

What should you do when you’ve decided learning is indeed the right solution for your audience? Moore recommends opting for a scenario-driven experience rather than the typical “content dump” that so many learners often work—and many times, suffer—through.

There are a few benefits to this scenario approach. It helps the learner apply the knowledge they’re learning to the real-life context they’ll be expected to perform in. Also, it’s great for engagement. It’s interactive and allows them to take a more active role in their learning, in contrast to the passive learning experiences that are commonplace. 

It’s also not enough to just write a few multiple-choice questions and call it a day. A truly great scenario question meets a number of criteria: 

  • It provides learners with a difficult decision they would have to make.
  • It’s realistic—something that actually applies to what they’re going to come across in their day-to-day life.
  • It shows the consequences of their decision, sometimes without telling them explicitly that their decision was “correct” or “incorrect.”

In short, good scenario questions get learners thinking.

What we loved

It’s easy to see why she’s such a well-respected leader in the learning and development community—and why Map It by Cathy Moore has gotten such great reviews! 

One of the things we appreciated most about Moore’s writing was her acknowledgement of the real struggles learners face. Maybe it’s an open secret to us learning professionals, but a lot of training out there is just… really boring. We all love “engagement,” but true engagement doesn’t come from flashy interactions—it comes from content that learners care about. 

Another thing worth mentioning was the sheer amount of tactics she shares in the book. Her action mapping process provides all the frameworks and criteria for gauging learning needs, writing effective scenario questions, and getting stakeholder buy-in.

What we’re doing differently

While we’ve always taken pride in our focus on solutioning, our book club got us thinking more about what we could be doing at the start of our learning projects. Rather than do what’s easy, or what we’ve done before, how can we do what’s right? While we pride ourselves on being a learning performance partner, we have to call it when we see it: learning isn’t always the answer.

Our instructional designers seriously geeked out on some of the finer points in Map It by Cathy Moore, like scenario question design—so much so that we had a follow-up workshop to discuss how we can improve our own scenario question design. We developed our own personalized framework that was inspired by her design philosophy. And while it’s still in its early days, we’ve been able to try it out on a few projects—to great success, more on that to come!

When learning IS the best solution—how are you approaching it?

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