Monthly Archives: August 2011

4MAT Train the Trainer: Simulation in Live Courses or The Great Marshmallow Experiment

We learn from experience. When faced with something new, we ask ourselves “How does this connect with what I already know?” The 4MAT model of instruction, which we share in our instructional design courses and train-the-trainer courses, guides learners through a complete learning cycle which begins with the learner’s experience.

Simulations are a powerful way to generate a shared experience. There’s a lot of talk about simulations in e-learning environments. In our 4MAT e-learning instructional design courses, we play around with all the different ways we can simulate the personal interaction and reflection that is often missing in e-learning environments.  But, what about simulations in live learning environments? We tend to think that learning simulations require a great deal of time, but that’s not always the case.

Last week, I headed over to the Southwest Learning Summit hosted by ASTD Dallas to lead a train-the-trainer workshop on how to connect performance-based outcomes to activity choice. The rest of the time I had the pleasure of participating in the sessions. Diana Monk of Time Warner Cable, opened her 75-minute session with a fun, impactful simulation that took less than 20 minutes.  Yes, this was 20 minutes of a 75 minute presentation-sounds like a lot. However, I can tell you it was the most engaging and memorable part of the entire day. (And, our team took home the $10 Target gift card prize-gotta love that).

The winning marshmallow structure

Here’s how she did it:

Time needed: 20 minutes

What you will need:

Paper bags (1 per group of 5 attendees)

10 sticks of dried spaghetti (in bag)

12″ length of string (in bag)

1 Marshmallow (in bag)

2″ strip of masking tape



1-Teams of 5 are formed.

2-Each team is instructed to build a structure that will support the marshmallow without piercing, cutting or otherwise mutilating it. The goal is for the marshmallow to be positioned at the highest point possible from the base.  The structure must be stand-alone. It cannot lean on or be supported by anything else, including the people creating it.

3-Teams are given 12 minutes from “Go” to grab their bag of materials and create their structure.

4-Midway through the 12 minutes, the facilitator “remembers” that she forgot to tell us the following: “I forgot to tell you that the winning team members will each receive a Target gift card.”

5-At the 12-minute mark, everyone must remove their hands from their structure. The winning team is determined by the height of the marshmallow from the base.

What could you do with a simulated experience like this? Where might you take the debrief? How could you connect this to content you will be sharing.