Tag Archives: Jeanine O’Neill-Blackwell

3 Ways to Engage Learners in Innovative Thinking

Innovation happens when different ideas and different ways of seeing things combine to create a new, larger perspective.  I am happily immersing myself in all things new while on holiday in Europe with my just-graduated-from-high-school daughter, Madison. I am amazed at how many ideas come forth when we get out of our grind and take time to just “be.”

How can we create more opportunities for ideas, insights and “aha’s” to show up in the 4MAT learning experiences we create?

  1. Get a conversation going. Unhurried dialogue about the big and small are often a trigger for some of the best insights. How can you mimic the magic of a sidewalk table for two, cappuccinos and the luxury of real conversation? Allow learners to get into dialogue. Trust the process — ask THE right question and let it do the heavy lifting. Spend time crafting powerful questions that will stimulate the thinking of the group.
  2. Reflect.  Why do our best ideas come in the shower? For the brain alpha waves to get rolling, we need to relax and to stop thinking about the problem we are trying to solve. Individual reflection, journaling, a walk in nature or a switching of gears are all ways to encourage the arrival of a new idea. My three most favorite and impactful learning experiences all involved these elements. If you can’t get outside of four walls, think about pre- and post-learning reflection exercises which stimulate the brain.
  3. Stimulate with the novel. Our brains are attracted to all things new. New languages (or words), images that we haven’t seen before and the unpredictable all make our brains kick into gear and pay attention. Get away from the predictability of Powerpoint® and systematically include the unpredictable in the learning experiences you design.

Circles and Lines: A Training Activity to Encourage Creative Thinking

This exercise encourages learners to explore the differences in right and left-mode thinking. This is a great kick-off to planning, teaming or creative thinking sessions. You can also use this exercise in conjunction with the 4MAT Hemispheric Mode Indicator® to create an interactive and powerful team experience around the different ways we approach thinking and problem solving. You’ll find more of these types of activities in Engage, The Trainer’s Guide to Learning Styles.


Focus: Group reflection exercise which explores the differences in the way we view the world. Resources Needed:
• Lengths of string long enough for members or each table group to hold the string simultaneously

  1. Share the facilitator script below.
  2. Ask participants to individually reflect on an example of when they have viewed the world as a “circle” and when they have viewed the world as a “line.”
  3. Give each table group a length of string.
  4. Ask learners to hold the string in a line, with each member touching the string. Invite learners to share their example of thinking from the perspective that “life is a line.”
  5. Ask learners to hold the string in a circle, with each member touching the string. Invite learners to share their example of thinking from the perspective that “life is a circle.”
  6. Ask each group to develop a list of the characteristics of both ways of viewing the world to present to the larger group.
  7. Debrief.

Trainer Script:

“Richard Nisbett is a social psychologist at the University of Michigan who leads research studying how humans think about the world. In his book, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why, Nisbett shares a story of a conversation with his student from China. The student told him ‘You know, the difference between you and me is that I think the world is a circle, and you think it’s a line’ (Nisbett, 2003, p. xiii). I invite you to reflect on the difference between circle and line thinking. Reflect on an experience which illustrates when you have approached a situation from a ‘circle’ point of view and a ‘line’ point of view.” Additional facilitator notes: In his book, Nisbett shares how the student elaborated on the differences between these two ways of viewing the world (Nisbett, 2003, p. xiii):

The World Is a Circle

  • Constant change
  • Things always moving back to some prior state
  • Paying attention to many things
  • Information comes from many sources
  • You can’t understand the part without understanding the whole

The World Is a Line

  • Simpler world view
  • Focus on objects or people versus the larger view
  • Knowing the rules will help you control the outcomes
  • Some sources of information are more valuable than others
  • Believe understanding the parts will lead to an understanding of the whole

Using 4MAT to Integrate “What Learners Know” and “What Learners Think”

What we think and what we know are two different things. Thinking is what is happening in our minds – the mind chatter we listen to. Our consciousness, on the other hand, holds all that we are aware of including that which we cannot put into words (yet).  Making the distinction between thinking and knowing is important when designing and delivering training experiences.

Learners know much more than they can quickly put into words. This is especially true when first exploring new content.

In his book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle shares, “All true artists whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or insight.”  To ensure learning transfer, learners must be equipped with the ability to adapt the content – to get creative.  Tapping into the full potential of our creativity requires that we make time for reflection.

The problem with many learning experiences is that they are emphasize thinking over knowing. The 4MAT model intentionally balances this focus. Here are two (of the many) ways that the 4MAT model equips learners for success:

  1. Encouraging Learner Reflection: The 4MAT instructional design model intentionally builds in reflection points for the learner to explore and synthesize what they already know with the new information being given to them.
  2. Mental Imagery: The 4MAT model integrates right-brain instructional strategies which enable learners to express what they know (consciousness) but may not be able to fully express in words (thinking).

In the rush to shorten a training design, we have to be careful to honor and maintain the balance between thinking and consciousness.

Balancing Right and Left Brain Activity Choice in Your 4MAT Design

I recently facilitated our 4MAT Advanced Instructional Design Course with the Aveda Global Education Team.  In this experience the group discovered their 4MAT learning style results and then overlaid this with their 4MAT Hemispheric Mode Indicator results. As we explored how their natural learning preferences influenced design and delivery approach, the group began to explore creative ways to increase retention of information by engaging the right brain. The learners were assigned to groups to reprocess the brain research shared on the impact on learning of right- and left-mode strategies. One particularly creative group came up with an interesting exercise to explore the differences between right- and left-mode processing.

Here’s the directions for the activity they designed:

  1. Draw two charts each titled with “How does this make you feel?” On one chart, draw a series of interconnecting squares. On the other chart, draw a collection of interconnecting spirals.
  2. Divide participants into two groups and assign each group a chart. Ask each group to answer the question, “How does this make you feel?”  Invite each team to write their answers on the chart.
  3. Have the two groups switch charts. Repeat the process.
  4. Debrief the exercise by sharing the insights written on each chart.

4MAT Learning Styles4MAT Instructional Design
One of the things I found interesting about this exercise is how the learners described the differences in how the two images made them feel. Some of the words used to describe the differences included:

  Boxes: Linear Image   Swirls: Abstract image
  • “Retrotastic”
  • Organized
  • Secure
  • Motivated
  • Structured
  • Deliberate
  • Softness
  • Free
  • Relaxed
  • Warm
  • Comforted
  • Inspire


As we stood in front of the two images, the entire group began to ponder how balanced their individual approach is to utilizing right- and left-mode strategies.  The consensus was that a balance of both right- and left creates the greatest learning impact and that the group collectively tends to lean heavily on left-mode processing.

When the group facilitating the exercise asked the question, “What do we miss when we underutilize right-brain learning strategies?,” the answers shared brilliantly summed up the power of right brain strategies:

  • The impact of seeing the bigger picture.
  • The ability to visualize how it all fits together.
  • The potential power of the mental image created when we use stories, metaphors and visual tools.
  • The impact of feeling.
  • Full engagement.

3 Ways to Make Training Memorable

Our 4MAT team headed to the Serious Business conference in New Orleans to facilitate a best practice learning session and to take in the great line-up of presenters. Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate, shared a great story about her experience riding Walt Disney World’s Mission to Mars® attraction.

Hogshead shared that when you approach the entrance to the ride, you are given one of two options which we will call “intense” and “neutral.” The intense version promises danger, extreme risk and possible heart failure. The signs posted which predict possible death from the ride, the smell of fear and the attendant’s final warning before getting into the ride all escalate the anticipation of the ride. The neutral ride, on the other hand, promises a fun, safe ride for the weak at heart. Hogshead chose the intense version and lived to tell about it.

The minute she survived the intense version of the ride, Hogshead began to wonder what was the difference between the intense and neutral versions of the ride. She was compelled to go back and see for herself. Are you wondering what the difference was? No difference, whatsoever. Yep, those Disney folks are so clever.

I’ve been researching this concept of what makes an event memorable and believe there are three elements that contribute to the “memorability” of an event:  anticipation, the peak of the experience (good or bad) and the tail end of the experience.

Anticipation: Think about how you anticipate and plan for vacations, weddings, that special night out … the more you anticipate, the more positive energy you bring to the experience.

Peak moment: When the peak of an experience is positive, the experience tends to be labeled as positive. When the peak moment is negative, it colors the rest of the experience. Think about that food poisoning from the sushi in Mexico. Food poisoning=Bad Trip.

The Tail End: When the peak positive moment comes at the end of an experience, you walk out on a high. Think of the encore at a rock concert — exploding fireworks, thousands of frenzied fans screaming and the lead singer smashing his guitar. Most excellent.

Marketing expert, Seth Godin, shares:

“Research shows us that what people remember is far more important than what they experience … The easiest way to amplify customer satisfaction, then, is to under-promise, then increase the positive peak and make sure it happens near the end of the experience you provide. Easy to say, but rarely done.”

What can we learn from this? Three ways to make training memorable:

1. Increase anticipation of the event. Think about how you can focus positive attention on the event before the event begins. Themes, invitations, reflective reading, provocative quotes are some of the many ways to get people thinking before they arrive.

2. Increase the “positive peak.” Powerful learning experiences include powerful learning moments. How can you amplify this? Are there any detractors from the experience that you can minimize or eliminate?

3. Create a memorable ending. If you had to graph the trajectory of a learning experience, where does it peak? Is the best, most powerful moment happening near the end of a learning event? Or, does the experience start strong and trend downward from there?

Can you think of an experience that created anticipation and/or included a positive peak moment near the end?

Defining Learning Outcomes to Guide Activity Choice

4MAT Train the TrainerIn our online 4MAT instructional design course, Leading Training Needs Analysis to Define Results-Focused Learning Outcomes Online Course, we explore how to define measurable outcomes that guide the design process. We focus on four key questions that help shape the outcomes framework which you will use to filter activity and content choices. To ensure performance results, four key outcomes must be achieved: value, knowledge, skill and adaptation.

We work through three critical steps in the outcomes development process:

Step 1: Analyzing the gap in performance.
Step 2: Defining the desired outcomes for the course.
Step 3: Working with Subject-Matter-Experts to define the concept and content of the course.

Let’s take an example of a request for sales training and explore one of the four key outcomes you must define: the Value Outcome. The value outcome statement articulates what value shift must occur in the learner to ensure higher performance. How must the learner think differently in order for them to act differently?

To craft a solid Quadrant 1 outcome (and great training opening), you must get into the mindset of the high performer. How does the high performer think differently than the struggling performer? What do they value differently? An article by titled, What Makes Great Salespeople Tick” by psychoanalyst Rapaille  gives a great example of a fundamental difference between high performing and struggling sales team members. Rapaille shares that great salespeople are “happy losers” that view rejection as a challenge.  Rapaille goes on to explain that our first experiences in selling shape our views. When we sold (or didn’t sell) that first box of Girl Scout cookies, a foundational view of sales was formed.

If we imagine Rapaille as our subject matter expert on the mindset of high performing sales people, we might articulate a Value outcome statement for this course which sounds like:

1. Engage/Value Outcome: Learners will learn to value rejection or negative responses from customers as useful feedback in the sales process.

In the case of dealing with rejection, great salespeople value negative feedback. A high performing salesperson sees the negative response as a valuable clue that redirects their sales approach. To create this mindset in low performers, requires a reframe of their existing beliefs that are a direct result of their previous experiences.

In our 4MAT train the trainer courses, we explore the four roles that trainers play when delivering a 4MAT-based design. In this step,  the trainer plays the role of “Facilitator” and uses reflection and dialogue to connect the learners to what they already know about the content and establish personal relevance. Here the trainer introduces the big idea, or concept, that subject matter experts appreciate which leads to learner engagement around the topic being learned. The outcome statement will serve as a guide to define the focus of the content and concept for the course. When choosing the opening activity,  think about how you can tap into the learner’s previous experiences of learning from rejection.

For example, in the sales course mentioned earlier, you might design the following opening:

4MAT Step 1: Connect
Reflect on early experiences in “selling” something. Can you recall being faced with your first rejection? Describe the experience. How did you feel? What was the impact of that experience? What did you learn from this experience?

Note: In this step in the 4MAT model, the learner is tapping into their experiences which shape their perceptions around the content. The activity choice focuses on personal experiences around rejection which links directly to the desired learning outcome. Skillful facilitation will lead learners to connect their past experiences and current view of selling.

4MAT Step 2: Attend
Share your experiences in your table group. Answer the following questions, as a group:

  • What were the commonalities in your experiences?
  • How did this experience shape your view of “selling”?

Note: In this step in the 4MAT model, the learners compare and contrast their experiences. The learners begin to notice themes and identify how perceptions shape their behaviors. Energy is building around the topic.

4MAT Step 3: Image
Using the materials provided by the facilitator, learners are asked to visually illustrate how positive and negative feedback from a potential “buyer” impacts your sales approach.

Note: Here the learner begins to see how their perceptions (which are shaped by past experience) influence their results. Imagine a learner sharing a visual with “positive=negative” written across the paper chart sharing, “Positive and negative cues from a buyer give me equal value. Each points me in the right direction.

There are an infinite number of activities to choose from when designing. When you couple this with the unlimited amount of content you can include, effective instructional design choices can become difficult. Well-defined outcome statements make the process of filtering content and measuring impact much simpler.

4MAT Train the Trainer: How to Be Fascinating

4MAT Train the Trainer FascinatingIn our 4MAT train the trainer and instructional design courses, engaged learning professionals come from all over to explore how to design and deliver learning experiences that create measurable, lasting impact using the 4MAT model. After reading the book, Fascinate, I am wondering if what we are really trying to figure out as trainers is how to become more fascinating.

Why are we captivated by some people and not others? Why are we compelled into action by one message and not another? According to Fascinate author Sally Hogshead, the answer is “fascination.” Fascination is the most powerful way to influence decision making. Hogshead shares “7 triggers” that spark the fascination response. Allow me to share how Hogshead defines the triggers along with my own thoughts on how this might show up in the learning experiences you design and deliver:

1. Lust: If you engage lust, you attract others into the experience.

Think about how you invite training participants to move beyond thinking and engage in feeling. How do you invite in emotions? What senses are engaged? Do you tease with intriguing information, attracting the learner into the experience? Hmmm…

2. Mystique: If you trigger mystique, you’ll encourage others to learn more about your message.

How do you spark curiosity? Do you share just enough information before a training session to make learners eager to fill in the gaps? Do you incorporate mythology, stories and intriguing elements into your 4MAT instructional design?

3. Alarm: If you trigger alarm, you compel others to behave urgently.

How you do create a sense of urgency? Do you define the consequences of not acting? Is the consequence significant enough to warrant immediate action? Do you use deadlines, perceived negative consequences and even danger to move learners into positive action?

4. Prestige: If you trigger prestige, you will elevate others.

What evidence of achievement and prestige are incorporated into the training experience? Do training participants receive proof of achievement—certificates, merit badges or cool gear that signifies their inclusion in an elite group of the “all knowing.”

5. Power: If you trigger power, others will defer to you as the expert.

As a trainer, how do you establish your expertise? Do you influence the environment in such a way that learners willingly follow your lead? How might you use this influence to guide learning in and outside of the formal learning environment?

6. Vice: If you trigger vice, your message will tempt others to stray from the path of goodness and light.

As a trainer, think about how you encourage others to move beyond their comfort zones. How do you tap into unspoken desires? Do you leverage the basic needs of humans to be included, to achieve, to be fascinating? Are learners inspired to break with tradition?

7. Trust: If you trigger trust, your message will comfort others and put them at ease.

As a trainer, how do you build trust? Do you focus on a core message that is repeated consistently throughout the experience (4MAT aficionados would refer to this as the “concept”)? Do you bring your most authentic self to the experience? Do you invite in meaningful dialogue?

Fascinate is a book about marketing. Hogshead goes on to share that a company might choose to focus on a dominant trigger or create a combination of triggers to achieve the desired impact with the consumer. What are your thoughts on applying these triggers to creating desired learning impact? Your comments are welcome.

Source:  Hogshead, Sally. Fascinate:  Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. (New York:  Harper Collins, 2010)

Working with Subject-Matter-Experts to Define Learning Outcomes

Our team had the opportunity to work with the Aveda training team to design a curriculum to be used globally to train hairdressers in haircutting. To define the learning outcomes for this project, we interviewed stakeholders including customers, trainers and master hairdressers to define the four learning outcomes that would guide the instructional design process.

An interesting insight on how master hairdressers view the concept of hair design came out of the performance analysis process. Using the 4MAT performance model we share in our Leading Training Needs Analysis to Define Results: Focused Learning Outcomes Online Course, we began to unearth some of the surprising ways that hairdressers view their work. In response to one of the questions, one hairdresser described the process of cutting hair as being similar to carving a sculpture. He went on to compare haircutting to the process of sculpting a large slab of granite into a statue. He shared that when the sculptor approaches the granite, he has to see what needs to be removed to get to the desired result.

Haircutting is similar to the process of sculpting  in that the hairdresser must see the “weight” that needs to be removed tocreate the desired result in the client’s hair.

To help a novice gain competency, trainers must create an opportunity for them to “see” what the competent already see. By asking the right questions of a subject matter expert, an instructional designer can uncover the important concepts that must be conveyed in the training delivery.  The right questions led to the discovery of a powerful concept , “weight distribution”, which  became one of the core concepts shared to help novice hairdressers begin to see what master hairdressers already see.

Training design is focused on improving the skills and competency of a learner.  Observing and questioning masters, or subject-matter-experts, will help you identify what to include in your training design. Subject-matter-experts can help you identify what concepts must be valued, what content must be included, what skills must be practiced and what follow-up and support must be offered.

Train-the-Trainer Tips: 7 Ways to Organize Lecture

In the 4MAT model, lecture happens in the step called “Inform”. In our 4MAT Train-the-Trainer sessions, we invite trainers and instructional designers to evaluate what it takes to deliver lecture well. “Well-organized” consistently shows up as the key criteria we all tend to use to evaluate lectures. Learners often describe painful lectures as “wandering”, “disorganized” and “all over the place”. There are many ways you can organize lecture. In this post, we will explore 7 Ways to Organize Lecture. Before we explore how to organize, let’s reflect on “How much is too much (lecture)?” and “How long is too long?”

How long is too long?

We explored the issue of “How Long is Too Long” when it comes to lecture in a previous post. According to brain expert, Dr. John Medina, we tend to drift off in lecture after the first quarter hour:

“Peer-reviewed studies confirm my informal inquiry: Before the first quarter-hour is over in a typical presentation, people usually have checked out. If keeping someone’s interest in a lecture were a business, it would have an 80 percent failure rate.”

What trainers and instructional designers need to know about the limits of human attention :

-We tend to pay attention according to some “stubborn timing pattern”. In my experience, this pattern runs in 10-15 minute increments. Without some shift in delivery approach, learners tend to drift off.  Next to “organized”, the second most cited criteria by learners for evaluating lecture is “entertaining”. There are many ways to shift the delivery approach and increase the entertainment factor: stories, images, interactive processing, visual organizers, visual data presentation, and props all work to entertain and engage.

How much is too much?

 -Our working memory can only hold so much information. A good rule of thumb is 5 bits of information, plus or minus 2. When structuring your lecture, challenge yourself to identify the main topics and limit the total to 7 maximum. 5 is even better. Create an experience to reflect and process each of the main topics within your lecture.

Organizing Your Lecture

Once you focus the content, you can then think about how you will organize the delivery of the content. The most obvious way to organize delivery of content is by topics. For example, if you were teaching a product knowledge course, an obvious way to organize lecture would be by product categories.  There are many other ways that you can structure the organization of the information. Think about how the learner will use the information to help you determine the best way to structure the delivery of the content.

Here are 7 ways to organize lecture including examples of how this might look in a product knowledge course on  haircare products.

1. Topics-organize the training content by categories or subject

Example: The lecture is structured into “shampoos”, “conditioners” and “styling aids”.

2. Problem and Solution-organize the training content around common problems  learners face and how the content being explored provides a solution

Example:  The lecture is structured around the “5 most common complaints” customers have about their hair such as “My hair is flat.” or “My curl is frizzy.”

3. Cause and Effect-organize the training content around how specific actions create different results

Example: The lecture is organized around the causes of common hair issues and how the products work to address these issues. One cause might be “humidity” with illustrations of how some products attract humidity to produce more curl and others decrease humidity to maintain straightness of hair.

4. Pros and Cons-organize the training content by comparing and contrasting the advantages and disadvantages of one thing over another

Example: Products can be compared and contrasted to competitive products with highlights on what makes “our” product better.

5. Acronym-create acronyms to help the learner understand the structure of the content delivery and to improve retention of the information

Example: The acronymn “ESP” might be used to organize the lecture.

E-Engage the client by asking the right questions.

S-Share the right product solution, linking the product to the client’s needs based on the client’s answers.

P-Provide the client with product usage information and tips.

6. Timelines-organize the training content in past-present-future orientation.

Example: Products can be explored based on when they were introduced.

7. Visual-organize the content using a visual organizing structure such as icons or color coding.

Example:  Visual icons are introduced at the beginning of the lecture which represent the different needs of different haircare clients. The icons are used as a coding system to identify the type of clients which would find each product appealing.

What other organizing structures would you add to the list?

25 Coaching Questions for Trainers Using the 4MAT Model

coaching questionsIn our 4MAT instructional design courses and train the trainer courses, we often hear trainers share how difficult it can be to focus and sustain learner attention. Let’s explore how you can use 25 Coaching questions to focus the attention of the learner during the 4MAT Practice step. First, let’s explore why questions are important in the coaching process.

The neurons in your brain communicate with each other through electrochemical signals. These signals are triggered by incoming sensory information. What you notice and pay attention to over time shapes the neuronal connections in your brain.  In the article, A Brain-Based Approach to Coaching, Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D., shares:

“The questions you ask of your brain significantly affect the quality of the connections it makes, and profoundly alters the patterns and timings of the connections the brain generates in a fraction of a second. Now, substitute the concept of ‘attention’ for the phrase “the question you ask,” and you get the statement “Where you focus your attention, you make connections.”1

If you want to create sustained behavioral change, you must generate focused attention on the behaviors that must be executed consistently to generate the desired training result. In the 4MAT model of instruction, the third part of the learning cycle is “Practice”. In this step, the learner applies the content and the trainer moves into the role of “Coach”.

The questions the trainer asks in this step should be aimed at focusing the learner’s attention on the quality of the practice application of the content being learned in the course.  To help you increase your inventory of coaching questions, here is a list of 25 Coaching Questions you can use to focus the learner’s attention during practice training activities:

25 Coaching Questions for Trainers Using the 4MAT Model

1. What worked?
2. What could have worked better?
3. What do you notice about your application?
4. If you were your own coach, what coaching would you give yourself on this?
5. How could you turn this around?
6. What are three things you would improve?
7. What would you do again?
8. What would you not do again?
9. If you were a customer, how would you evaluate your approach? Your results?
10. What are three actions you might take to apply this with different results next time?
11. On a scale of 1-10, where is your application?
12. What would it take to move from a 5 to a 9?
13. Where are you comfortable? least comfortable?  Why?
14. What can you learn from this?
15. How else might you approach this?
16. What do you notice?
17. What could you pay more attention to?
18. What themes do you see showing up in the work of the group?
19. What differences do you notice in your application and others?
20. What one behavior (or thought) if executed consistently would make the biggest difference in your application?
21. What insights have you gained through this practice?
22. What do you think you should do first? next?
23. What would you do if it was entirely up to you?
24. If you saw someone else in this situation, what would you suggest that they do?
25. If you weren’t holding anything back, how might this look differently?

What other questions would  you add to the list?

1David Rock and Jeffrey M, Schwartz, M.D. Journal of Coaching in Organizations,  2006, 4(2), pp 32-43.