Global Learning Archetypes in Action

Posted by Stacie Comolli on Nov 6, 2013 3:26:00 PM

Global LearningI’ve seen lot of “big ideas” come and go over the years.   While “Global Archetypes” may sound like a catchphrase, our experience tells us that, when it comes to learning, what works in the U.S. may not have the same impact across the globe.

As a learning Solution Architect, my role is similar to an architect creating a blueprint for a new building.  If the building’s foundation is wrong, the whole building could come down. Similarly, in learning we start with the foundation, a solid underlying structure on which skills and knowledge are built.  If the foundational concept is wrong, the whole curriculum could be wrong, impacting the careers of the learners and the business success of the organization.  The foundation is no place for a “flavor of the month” approach to training.  The most effective designers always consider the characteristics of the global audience as a part of the learning design process.

Can a Global Archetypes approach make learning more effective?

The first time I learned about Global Learning Archetypes I thought the idea was great. Almost all of my clients had challenges rolling out learning to a global audience, and the archetypes addressed the big issues: time, cost, and complexity. But anybody can say “better, cheaper, faster;” did these tools really work?

The short answer: Yes.  The slightly longer answer: the system is deep enough to apply to a lot of different situations, but flexible enough to be adaptable to a specific client’s needs.  

My client, a major global life sciences organization, was implementing a new curriculum. The content needed to be delivered to 85 different countries. The pressure was really on: new content, new approach, and worldwide rollout. The client was understandably concerned. How could the team get all of this done rapidly, economically, and at a high level of quality?

Historically, my client had differing levels of success in different countries. Learning was centrally developed in the U.S., and they found that what worked in the U.S. didn’t work across the globe.  Instructional preferences clearly differed by geography, including how the content was designed, developed, and implemented. We wanted to determine the “common core”— to reach the highest number of learners with the minimum amount of regional customization.

Based on my experience, Global Learning Archetypes help in five ways:

  • A solid strategic foundation promotes design consistency
    Multiple workstreams, dozens of team members, tight schedules, overlapping timelines, and of course, unexpected changes; how do you keep everybody focused?  The Global Learning Archetypes were our “one way;” our common language, so no matter where in the world you were, or what workstream you were working on, we were all aligned.
  • A pragmatic approach aligns to what we do already
    The Global Learning Archetype approach focuses on the steps we actually take when we build learning interactions. It isn’t some high-minded concept that you can’t actually implement. The 11 Dimensions of Learning really are the key decision points we need to focus on when creating learning designs. And the cultural preference models really do address the needs of different geographies. In fact, the various country managers we worked with were surprised at how closely the archetypes tracked to their own experiences customizing training for local audiences.
  • A flexible structure considers that one size rarely fits all
    Sometimes a formal process will leave you scratching your head, when part of the process just doesn’t fit what you’re trying to do. Like any process, not every part of the archetype process was a perfect fit for this initiative. Fortunately, the archetypes were built to be customized. After we did our initial assessment, we adapted the archetype process to fit the needs we uncovered, a fairly painless process.
  • Communication alignment hit all stakeholders
    In an initiative of this size, there are a lot of stakeholders, and they all want to understand what you are doing. To further complicate things, the Subject Matter Experts for this initiative were primarily third-party consultants who did not work for the client. You can imagine the differing perspectives, opinions, approaches, and work styles. So how do you keep all of those people on the same page? The Global Learning Archetypes allowed us to have one single way of getting things done, regardless of content, SME, target audience, or geography. Frankly, if the archetypes had accomplished nothing but that, I think my client would have been pretty happy! 
  • Scalability remained, even when faced with change management
    When we started this initiative, the target audience was primarily emerging markets, a fairly small subset of the client’s global presence. As the initiative progressed, however, leadership made a decision to roll it out to all locations. This could have been a show-stopper; however, using the standardized processes of the archetypes, we were able to scale delivery up without blowing up the project.

As learning strategists, our goal is to impact performance. When you’re doing global learning, you can’t sit eyeball to eyeball with every learner. The Global Learning Archetypes allow you to use strategies and techniques that are applicable across the globe—which allows you to actually make a difference in how people do their jobs.

Want more information on Global Learning Archetypes? Click here!

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Stacie Comolli is Director, Solution Architecture at Performance Development Group

Topics: Learning Theory, Learning Agility, Global Learning

Global Learning Doesn't Need to Be So Hard

Posted by Rich Mesch on Oct 22, 2013 5:09:00 PM

Global ArchetypesThink about it: why does designing learning for a global audience need to be any harder than designing for a local audience?

Part of it, of course, is audience analysis; with such a diverse audience around the globe, we assume we must design for all different cultural preferences. Or, sometimes, we go in the exact opposite direction, designing a single version of learning for all global audience. Sometimes I call this the Pray Method; send courseware out into the world and pray somebody learns something.

Part of the problem is that we focus so much on differences that we forget to focus on commonalities. When we design global learning, we’re usually trying to get a common message out to a diverse audience. So how can we address cultural differences without muddling the message?

At PDG, we’ve developed a global design strategy called Global Learning Archetypes. The Archetypes utilize established and well-vetted cultural preference data to create a design approach that allows content to be designed for multiple audiences simultaneously. And by focusing on the similarities as well as the differences, the Archetypes simplify the process, saving time, money, and headaches.

The Archetypes integrate the cultural preferences data with a comprehensive learning model called the PDG Dimensions of Learning to synthesize a design methodology that focuses on how different cultures absorb new information.

The goal of archetypes is to simplify and streamline the process of creating learning for a global audience, allowing content to be created more quickly and for lower cost.  The characteristics of effective Global Archetypes are:

  • Simple:
    The goal of the archetypes is to create less work, not more. The archetypes need to be easy to understand and have clear applicability.
  • Practical:
    Global Archetypes will ultimately be utilized by learning teams who have limited budget, resources, and time. The archetypes need to be usable within the constraints learning teams typically face.
  • Actionable:
    No strategy or approach is useful if it sits on a shelf, unused, Global Archetypes need to have clear process steps and toolsets, so they can be used easily, consistently, and with a minimum of preparation.

For more information on Global Learning Archetypes, you can read our white paper, Training the World: Using Archetypes to Create a Practical Global Learning Strategy or a case study of the Archetypes in action, Accelerating Time to Global: Effective Global Learning Design Using Archetypes or visit our web page on Global Learning.


Rich Mesch



Rich Mesch is Senior Director, Customer Engagement at Performance Development Group.


Topics: Learning Theory, Learning Agility, Global Learning

ADDIE Living in a Scrum World, Part 1

Posted by Rich Mesch on Dec 6, 2011 2:12:00 AM

by Austin Kirkbride, M.A.

Austin Kirkbride, M.A., is a Project Manager, certified in Scrum and waterfall project management approaches, and an Organizational Change Management specialist with 20 years of domestic and international experience working in the people side of technology and change. This is the first in a series of posts on how Scrum can enhance learning organizations. written in collaboration with the colleagues on her team.
Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework for project management. Originating in the IT
Rugbymatchsmallsoftware development world, the scrum methodology has translated well to other industries as it emphasizes functional deliverables, the flexibility to change and adapt along with emerging business realities, and provides a high level of communication and collaboration across the team.
Some of my more purist Scrum Master colleagues have challenged me that the learning development methodology – ADDIE, or Assess, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate – cannot survive in a Scrum world and that it needs to be eliminated. They argue that ADDIE lives in the old world of waterfall project management, complete with silos and hand-offs that make the methodology an antiquated notion of how training should be developed.
I beg to differ.

One of the more elegant aspects of Scrum is that it is a framework, not a dogma. I’ll admit that ADDIE reeks of waterfall project management and implies that there are hand-offs and linear thinking required to apply the methodology. But with a little open-minded application, I see no reason why ADDIE can’t live in the Scrum world.  Here’s how:

Assess: Learning can’t happen unless we know what the scope of the training needs to be. The Assessment is critical to understanding things like audience, content needs, identifying subject matter experts, and looking at how the training fits into the larger needs of the organization. Assessments can be treated as a Sprint Zero, occurring over a couple of weeks or actually broken down into Sprints if the assessment requires a longer chunk of time. The Sprint Zero is the opportunity for the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and team to identify business requirements and value, needs, scope, etc., so why wouldn’t it be malleable enough to be a time of learning assessment?

Design: Once the scope and assessment of the learning needs is identified, the approach, or design, will begin to evolve. Depending upon the scope of the project, the design can be treated as Sprint Planning (for smaller projects with a minimum of complexity) or the design process can be sprinted, with client design reviews (Sprint Reviews) at the end of the sprints to gain sign-off and buy-in from the client (for larger, more complex projects).

Development: Much like software development, learning development can be planned for, sprinted, and reviewed, whether eLearning or Instructor-led. Developing training  – eLearning or ILT – would align most closely with its parentage in software development, allowing the instructional designers/developers to collect content and iteratively present it to the client until delivery.

Implementation: This is where applying Scrum needs to be an exercise in Scrum framework flexibility. If implementing training means putting the eLearning on the LMS, there is probably no need to sprint the activity – likely it would be a task within the final sprint. But if implementation requires the team to deliver the learning in a classroom, webcast or interactive environment, it would likely make sense to sprint these activities, complete with stories and tasks. As long as the team is producing a product, it continues to Sprint and deliver to the client.

Evaluation: Again, the process of evaluation may be part of a sprint, or might be sprinted separately, depending upon the scope of the evaluation. Most Level I or II evaluation might likely be tasks within a sprint if, for instance, it is a compiling of survey results at the end of a learning event. Larger evaluation approaches, such as following up with large-scale, long-term metrics, may require their own sprint, or possibly even their own project.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Scrum, ADDIE

Attitude is Essential to Learning, Part 2: It's All About My Manager

Posted by Reni Gorman on Sep 11, 2011 4:42:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Women manager and employeeIn the first part of this series, we talked about the role of the individual in learning. It’s hard to make someone learn if they’re not willing. But what if they are willing but are not encouraged or worse are discouraged by the person who judges their performance: their manager? What is the manager’ attitude toward the new knowledge and skills learned?

Challenge 3: My manager does not encourage me to apply what I have learned on the job. This is by far the worst, deadliest challenge. People must know that they will be enabled and empowered to put what they learned into action on the job. If they feel for any reason that they can’t… maybe because their managers don’t know what they learned and can’t or won’t help them apply it. Sound unbelievable? It happens all the time. For example, if the manager doesn’t believe in the new sales model and doesn’t encourage its use, it is not very likely his or her team will adapt it and give it a try. We, training professionals, take folks out of their jobs, put them in training, throw them back into their jobs and expect them to perform. We forget that people will usually listen to the person that manages them. If their manager isn’t committed to applying the new skills learned, it most likely will not happen.

Solution 3: Make sure the manager is aware of and reinforces the learning. I point out raising awareness because I have seen many situations where managers did not even know what their employees learned when they went to training. In this case, it may not be that they don’t actively support it, but rather that they don’t know. One idea is to supply managers with a one pager summary of what their people learned that includes things like tips on how to help their employees pull through the learning into application on the job. It could include questions to ask employees to reflect on and talk about the learning and coaching opportunities. Once the managers are aware how do we get them to be supportive? Setting clear expectations through executive sponsors, following up with measurement that results in recognition, rewards and even consequences are all critical for success. First managers have to be told it is expected that they use the new sales model—if that is the case. This message has to be delivered to them through their own leadership so they take it seriously—it can’t and shouldn’t come from the training department. Once they know what they are supposed to do, like coach to the new sales model, we have to make sure they know how to do that—here is where more training may come in. Then we have to measure whether or not they are doing it with the understanding that their actions, both positive and negative, have consequences.

Last but not least it is important to remember that you can’t stop at the manager, you must look to see what the manager’s manager is doing—is he or she supporting new behavior on the manager’s behalf. In other words, if the consequences above aren’t really going to be enforced by the manager’s manager, if he or she doesn’t really believe in the new selling model either, they you need to go through the same process with them: make them aware that it is important, show senior support, and back it up with consequences both negative and unfortunately, if needed, negative.

At the end of the day we all have to be held accountable for our actions. When we are at work and sent to training, we are paid to learn and to action that learning. Let’s make it easy for people to do so by removing any barriers to learning and reinforcing the “right” behavior.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Coaching, Organizational Change

Attitude is Essential to Learning, Part 1: It’s All About Me

Posted by Reni Gorman on Aug 30, 2011 5:53:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

As learning professionals we spend so much time designing just the right kind of exciting learning intervention that we sometimes forget to think about other factors that may prevent learning. For example, no matter how great the learning experience is, if people are unmotivated to learn then the reality is that they
won’t. Let’s explore some of the reasons why people might be unmotivated and figure out what we can do to combat it.

businessphoto_flipchartsmChallenge 1: How does this relate to me? Can you recall a time when you were totally uninterested and unmotivated to learn? Maybe in grade school during history class? For me it was college math. I simply was not interested. Why? I did not ever think calculus was something I would use in “real life.”We know from adult learning principles that people learn best when they can see the relevance the content has to their day-to-day jobs, and to their lives. So, one would think the answer is simple: show people how the content is relevant to them, and they will be open to learning it. As important as this concept is, it’s something designers forget to do as they get all caught up in designing the learning.

Solution 1: Point out the WIIFM. It is really important in the beginning of every learning experience to point out why it is important and relevant for the learner to absorb this new information. The “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) should be present at the start of each learning piece.

What else may prevent you from learning?

Challenge 2: I already know this. For example: “I’ve learned several sales models in the past. This sounds like the same stuff.”  If people think they already know something, their minds are shut and they won’t allow in new ways of thinking—because of course they don’t need new ways of thinking about something they know inside and out.

Solution 2: Point out differences—things they may not know. If you know you are dealing with this learner mindset, the best thing to do is first acknowledge that you are teaching them YET ANOTHER sales model. Then, point out what is unique and different about this sales model. Doing that will help people start thinking about all the ways this is different from what they already know and that will open them up to learn more.

I remember creating a module on hedge funds for a major financial years ago and the first page said: “Think you know everything there is to know about hedge funds? Think again! Did you know that…” With just one fun fact on the first page of the module that we could bet was new information to them, we captured their curiosity and dispelled their immediate notion that they did not have to go through this because they already knew.

So far, we’ve focused on the individual, and how to overcome their barriers to learning. But what happens next? There’s an even bigger barrier to implementation out there—and we’ll talk about that in the next installment!

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Organizational Change, Organizational Learning

Toward a Learning Agile Organization

Posted by Rich Mesch on Aug 22, 2011 7:25:00 AM

At an organizational level, agility is the ability to grow, change, or innovate at or above the speed of one’s own market. Anything less cannot be considered agility.

-Timothy R. Clark & Conrad Gottfredson

WomanCEOsmallWe have all heard of corporate agility. We hear the term “agile” all the time related to today’s corporate environment: agile processes, agile practices, agile leadership.  In our rapidly changing world, agility is one of the most important skills an organization can have if it is to stay competitive. Agility is the ability to move quickly, change rapidly, and respond to crises, threats and opportunities at the point of need. Of course, the ability to be agile relies on the ability of the organization to quickly gain the knowledge they need to do so. Rapid access to knowledge and information drives the learning agile organization, as defined by Clark and Gottfredson  in In Search of Learning Agility. But what does it mean to have Learning Agility? What does a Learning Agile organization look like?

Imagine being able to get the knowledge you need at the moment you need it. That’s not too much of a stretch today, is it? Think Google Docs, SharePoint, the Internet and intranets. If you want information, it’s out there. You simply need to find it; Google it and you end up with millions of pieces of information to sift and search through. But Learning Agility is not just the ability to find information.

Now imagine being able to find the knowledge you need quickly and easily and then being able to actually apply that new knowledge immediately. What would that look like? Just being able to find information does not make it useful, and certainly does not make it learning. Information only becomes learning when we connect it in our cognitive structures and are able to apply it in context. Google “ADDIE” and you find all kinds of information on instructional design. But will that give you the learning you need to be able to create an instructionally sound course for your target audience?

So how can information be structured and delivered so that it quickly becomes learning that is relevant in the current context and can be applied in a threat, crises or opportunity that arises?  Well, now, that’s Learning Agility.

Technology provides us with so many ways to move toward learning agility. Think “blended learning,” but grown up to include access to knowledge in more ways than just online and classroom. Wikis, discussion forums, online courseware, blogs, chats, social networks… the list can go on and on. Technologies provide the forums we need to be able to share knowledge and access learning at the point of need.

Learning agile organizations understand this need, and provide a new model for developing and delivering learning to their employees, using all of the technologies available to them.  They see learning not as a onetime event, or even as ongoing events, but as adaptive, collaborative, ongoing, and part of the daily activities of any employee. Learning Agile organizations use all tools available to share, collaborate, and learn whenever and wherever, all the time. And Learning Agile organizations value the ability to adapt at the point of need.

Is your organization moving toward Learning Agility?

Clark, T. & Gottfredson, C. (2008). In Search of Learning Agility.  TRClark, Inc.

Topics: Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Learning Agility, Change Management, Organizational Change, Organizational Learning, Agility

Teaching Non-Linear Instructional Design for Mobile Learning and Performance Support

Posted by Reni Gorman on May 4, 2011 6:44:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

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We all intuitively think in a linear fashion because the brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, then another, and another. Therefore, even when we think we are jumping around in our thoughts, we are still thinking one thing after another. Perhaps as a result of this, many of us also write in a linear fashion. Therefore, it is not surprising that many instructional designers create course content linearly; it is difficult to think of a course or a story any other way.. However, when people use newer technologies, they tend to be very non-linear, be it surfing the web, using mobile devices or (especially) performance support systems. You never know where learners are coming from when they land on your web page—or your module. You also don’t know how much they already know. So, how do you to anticipate all of this when creating content, and, ideally, create content that addresses multiple learner types who arrive there from any place without any pre-existing knowledge?

When the web first went commercial (.com), I teamed up online magazine web producers with instructional designers and together they were able to create very interactive, instructionally sound, non-linear content. However, that was in the 90s, the stone age of interactive technology. In today’s world, we need to run as lean as we can. So let me share some of the techniques that worked for me when teaching how to design non-linear content; which, remember, is totally counterintuitive to what many instructional designers have been doing for years.

Ask your instructional designers to create a storyboard with modules that are truly context independent (in other words, that can be accessed from any path with any existing knowledge and will still make sense). Tell them to try to create the smallest possible modules; think online magazine publishing: one article is usually one page. Once they come back with their storyboards, pull out a module from the middle and see if it makes sense out of context. Does it indicate where you can go to “backtrack” and catch up?  What would happen if a learner would go into just this piece of content without the benefit of the previous content? Then, think about modifying the content in a way that makes it easy for anyone with links to go backwards in the content for explanation (if needed), and links to get more deep/advanced. This is commonly referred to as a layered design—once again, very non-linear. You will not know who the learner is when you design; she may be the target audience or a manager of the target audience or an assistant. No matter who the learner is, the content should make sense, and guide the learner to other content where they can catch up or explore further.

You also need to consider “neutralizing the language” as regards your audience. Don’t use terms like: “As the manager, you will…” In a good performance support system, it should not matter who the person is, the content should guide you and focus on the task you are trying to perform (or the information you are trying to learn) regardless of who you are I like to refer to this as designing object oriented content. Yes, learning objects (remember those?). It may be an old term but it is still relevant-- in fact more relevant than ever, since mobile devices require smaller and smaller chunks of context-independent content.

Another tip is to watch for and remove is verbiage like “In a previous module, you learned...” When your audience is accessing content non-linearly, you don’t know what they have previously learned. Consider using phrases like “For more information” or “To learn more.”

We’re all obsessed with interactivity, but interactivity is not nearly as relevant in performance support. If I need help on the job, a good checklist is worth much more than an interactive game, because a good checklist is “just in time.” In a good mobile performance support system we no longer need an intro with course objectives, but we do need to introduce the material. How do we do it from a performance support perspective? Learning objectives do not really teach anything—they tell what you will learn but you don’t learn from them. In performance support there is not much room for them—each learning object/page should teach you something. Take the user’s perspective and focus on the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? For example: “You should use this tool, Mr. Investment Banker,  because hedge funds have changed over the last year and the new information will impact your business.

Finally, instructional designers should consider all the ways this content could be used:
    • in a linear e-learning course (don’t worry, linear hasn’t gone away completely)
    • as a quick tip list in a performance support environment
    • In an audio format, perhaps as a list of “what to say” to the customer. It may be better in audio to hear voice inflection; for example, a sales representative can listen to it with a hands-free device on the way to a client meeting.
Many of us are used to designing linear content, and linear design is a hard habit to break.. But it’s useful to step back and think about the possibilities. Invite others to brainstorm, share designs and content so you are not just looking at your own, as that is harder to critique, and guide each other to realizations through the art of inquiry.

Creating valuable, snippets of information that contain one concise piece of transferrable knowledge will make content so much more effective in the business world where people do not always have time for extensive classroom training, or even sitting through a long online learning course. They want to go right to the information that they need and that may mean jumping around and reviewing the content out of sequence. Creating snippets of content is also the key to the age old dream all content creators have of authoring once and reusing in many ways. Happy authoring!
The Mobile Learning rEvolution

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Mobile Performance

Teaching Problem Solving

Posted by Reni Gorman on Mar 14, 2011 10:32:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

multi-colored squares on a puzzle cubeWhat is Problem Solving?

Whenever a living creature has a goal but doesn’t know how to accomplish it, they engage in problem solving. (Holyoak & Morrison, 2005) Problem solving is considered the most complex of all intellectual functions, as a higher-order cognitive process that requires activation and control of more routine or fundamental skills in order to solve the problem at hand. (Goldstein & Levin, 1987) There are a number of methods for problem solving, including:

Difference reduction, in which we keep reducing the distance between the current state and the goal step by step;

Means-end analysis, where we work backwards from end goal and set sub goals; and

Analogy strategy, where we find similar problems we have solved with pervious strategies and try those same strategies on the new problem.

This is just a basic list; there are many other problem-solving methodolgies. So, how can we set up our learners to succeed?

Conditions under which Learners might Demonstrate Good Problem Solving

Gestalt psychologists have outlined a number of features that make problem solving more difficult, they are as follows: (Holyoak & Morrison, 2005)

Groupingwhen all elements needed to solve the problem are not grouped, but rather scattered. Problem-solving becomes easier if all elements to solve a problem are grouped.

Distraction, think of distracters used when testing learners, the more there are the harder it is to solve the problem.

Functional fixedness, when solving the problem requires that something be used for something other than what it was made for. Using a bunch of pieces of cloth to tie together to form a rope latter is not as intuitive as if rope was just lying around.

Set effect, if we always use a certain method to solve a problem and suddenly that does not work, we have to unlearn the previously learned solution and it is harder than starting from scratch without the set effect.

Based on the list above, if we offer learners a problem where:

  • All the elements needed to solve the problem are grouped,
  • There are no distractions
  • All objects used to solve the problem are used the way they were intended, and
  • The learners will not be reminded of previously experienced, typical problem solving strategies because the problem is so unique

We will have created a condition where the learners will most likely demonstrate good problem solving. However, this approach may not be appropriate for everyone. This approach may only be appropriate for teaching beginners; perhaps advanced learners need just the opposite to challenge them.

Conditions under which Learners might have Difficulty with Problem Solving
In order to challenge more experienced learners, we can do just the opposite: make the conditions under which learners solve the problem more difficult. We can make sure all the elements needed to solve the problem are scattered and not grouped, there are several distractions, all objects used to solve the problem are used in a different way from the way they were intended or are used every day, and we can design the problem so it superficially looks like a very easy problem that would invoke memories of previous strategies, when in fact it is not and will need new strategies.

Setting up a problem in this manner would surely stretch the knowledge and skills of any good problem solver. The goal, of course, is making them a great problem solver.


Goldstein F. C., & Levin H. S. (1987). Disorders of reasoning and problem-solving ability. In M. Meier, A. Benton, & L. Diller (Eds.), Neuropsychological rehabilitation. London: Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved July 7, 2008 from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Holyoak, K.J. & Morrison, R.G. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. New York: Cambridge University Press

Topics: Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Coaching, Leadership, Organizational Learning

Challenges and Ideas for Teaching Experts: Dual Process Reasoning Theory

Posted by Reni Gorman on Feb 4, 2011 4:54:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

I have been doing training for 20+ years now and the audience that gives me the most pain in terms of designing instruction is an audience of experts. Why? Well because experts “know everything”--even if they don’t. That means they are often trying to align new knowledge into categories they already understand. The response to the content you’re teaching is often “Oh, yeah, that is just like…” and they bring up things that they can relate to in their own expert fields. Instructional designers are often encouraged to teach people with examples that learners can relate to—but is this true with experts as well? If experts try to relate everything (or most things) to other things they know, what happens if they get it wrong? Then their brains have just encoded information in an incorrect way—which is not easy to change. It also makes me wonder, maybe this is true for all of us, not just experts. It is just that experts are vocal about it. We know as learning designers that misperceptions have to be uncovered and dealt with upfront before learning can happen in the “right way.” So what can we do?

Well, dual process reasoning theory indicates that two systems collide when it comes to reasoning of any kind. (Holyoak & Morrison, 2005) System 1 is our evolutionary system reflecting a collection of innate modules. Think of this as our instincts; they are so fast and automatic that they do not even register in our consciousness until after the reaction. Kind of like when people jump to very quick conclusions about what they know.

System 2 is our intellect, our cognition; it is slow as we think things over and reason about the problem at hand. When we get brand new information that we can’t relate to anything we already know, we actually have to think it through as we learn it; that when we use System 2. After we think it through we may well find something we can relate the new information to—but the point is, we have thought it through instead of jumping to conclusions.

Can we create conditions to which System 1 cannot react? Can we set learners up to have to reason and think things through? Maybe we should try. How? Perhaps by giving learners a problem with which they are not familiar with at all. Try it and let me know how you make out!


Holyoak, K.J. & Morrison, R.G. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Topics: Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Cognition

Using Storytelling in Learning, Part 5: The Goal-Based Scenario

Posted by Rich Mesch on Oct 11, 2010 9:30:00 AM

by Rich Mesch

So what’s the goal of this story?

Okay, so there’s a question you don’t often get when discussing novels or plays. What’s the goal? Well, the goal is to get to the last page of the book, or the curtain call at the end of the play. But when you’re writing stories for learning, the question takes on a different meaning. Not only are you telling a great story, you’re supposed to be helping your learner improve his or her performance.

Great learning stories include Goal-Based Scenarios. In simplest terms, the story includes a goal or a set of goals that need to be achieved; the point of going through the story is to achieve the goal. That sounds simple enough, but here’s the key: the nature of the goal impacts the way you perceive the story. Confused? Let’s break it down.
    • First and foremost, the goal of learning is not just to make you smarter; the goal is to help you build the ability to do something. A Goal-Based Scenario begins to answer to eternal question of performance improvement: what am I going to be able to do as a result of this effort? Why is it important that I’m able to do this?


    • In the business world, almost everything we do has a goal. Why should our business learning be any different? What kinds of problems can I solve with this knowledge?


    • Ultimately, storytelling for learning works best when it presents real life conflicts. It can be pretty easy to regurgitate the “right” way to handle a problem, but can you really do it under pressure? You need to recreate that pressure for the learning to have emotional impact—and Goal-Based Scenarios do that. Rather than applying learning in a vacuum, you’re attempting to solve a real business problem—and actually having to apply what you’ve learned.

So how do you create a Goal-Based Scenario? In order to create good story-based learning, you need to be consultative. You need to understand the subtleties of the job and challenges your learners face in achieving success. For example, if I’m learning selling skills, my ultimate goal is probably to close a sale. But what are the subtleties of effectively closing? Is my customer more likely to buy if I take one path over another? Will I sell more if I’m able to meet my customer’s boss, who has more buying authority? Will I sell more long-term if I’m able to build a good relationship? Am I afraid to talk too much for fear my customer will realize I don’t know as much as I claim to know?

If you’d like to know more about Goal-Based Scenarios, here are a few references:

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Storytelling, Simulation