Monthly Archives: December 2009

Meaning Part 4: Defining the 4MAT Concept


needs analysis

In our 4MAT Train the Trainer programs, the most common challenge trainers share is how to deliver a large quantity of content in a narrow window of time.  When we receive requests for training, they oftentimes come in the form of a list of content that needs to be included. The familiar “We already know what we want to cover in the course” is heard as the requesting manager hands you the 452-page procedure manual. Defining the overarching concept you are conveying is the first step in addressing this challenge.

Concept is the big idea, the core, the essence that runs through the content. It is the essential meaning of the content.  It is what an expert grasps that a novice doesn’t. The concept connects all the details and topics together.  When you focus design around what best delivers the concept, you find there is room to eliminate non-essential stuff.

For example, imagine you are teaching a course on conflict resolution. What’s the 4MAT concept?  If you decide that the bigger idea that weaves through  conflict resolution is”getting to win-win”, you now have a clearer picture of what you are conveying. The concept becomes a filter for determining what is “nice to have” content versus “need to have” content.

Defining concept requires some effort. In our train the trainer programs, we invest a great deal of time on how to nail this. With a clear concept defined, the rest of the design work flows. Most importantly, when you do the heavy lifting on figuring out what the content is really about, the learner doesn’t have to.

Here’s some questions you can ask to begin to think about the concept of your 4MAT design:

What’s the big idea?

If I had to sum this up in a word or two, how would I do that?

If I asked a subject matter expert to sum it up, how might they respond?

What does a high performer (unconsciously competent) grasp about this content that a novice misses?

Meaning Part 3: Effective 4MAT Subject Matter Expert Interviews

In our 4MAT Train the Trainer programs, trainers often share that editing content is often one of the most difficult design tasks. The key to extracting the core concepts from a subject matter expert lies in the trainer’s ability to move the subject matter expert back down the “competency spectrum”. When we look through the lens of 4MAT, we can see four distinct areas where distinctions between expert/high performers and novice/low performers show up:

Engage-4MAT Quadrant 1-Appreciation

What differences exist in the appreciation for the content’s value between the expert/high performer and the novice/low performer? What does an expert have an appreciation for that a novice does not?

Share-4MAT Quadrant 2-Knowledge

What knowledge does the expert/high performer possess that the novice does not? What does the expert/high performer understand?

Practice-4MAT Quadrant 3-Skill

What tactical skills does the expert/high performer possess that the novice has yet to develop? What do they do differently?

Perform-4MAT Quadrant 4-Adaptation

What differences exist between the expert/high performer’s ability to adapt, innovate or overcome barriers to implementation?

The following questions represent the types of questions you can use to determine the key concepts underlying content, as you begin your 4MAT training design. You can use these questions with subject matter experts or with senior leaders requesting training to improve performance:

1-What does someone have to have a strong appreciation of to do this well? If you had to sum this up in a word or two, what would it be? Was there ever a moment when you had an “aha!” around this and suddenly it all made sense? If so, will you share this with me?

2-What does someone need to understand to do this well? Of everything you shared, what is most important? If someone were to get “all caught up in the details” around this content, what “big picture” might they miss? When you picture how this fits together, what image comes to mind?

3-Where do most people struggle in applying this? If you were assigned to give someone feedback on applying this, what would you look for? If you were watching a high performer and a low performer applying this side-by-side, what differences would you see?

4-What kind of situations would require someone to get creative in applying this information? Where might the “wheels come off of the track”? What advice would you give someone to help them prepare for the barriers they might run into when applying this content? If this training program were 100% effective, what behaviors would you observe in the participants? What results would you see?

In the next installment, we will explore the process of defining the concept for your training design.

Meaning Part 2: Navigating the Conscious Competence Spectrum


In a recent 4MAT Train the Trainer program, the conscious competence model was explored. I have been unable to find the definitive source on the Conscious Competence model. If you have a source, please share it with me in the comments field.

The four-step process that takes us from “unconscious incompetence” to “unconscious competence” looks like this:

1. Unconscious Incompetence – “I didn’t even know that I didn’t know that.”

2. Conscious Incompetence – “There is a lot that I need to learn about this.”

3. Conscious Competence – “I can do this, if I focus.”

4. Unconscious Incompetence – “I do this without even thinking about it.”

We design learning experiences to move learners further along the competency spectrum. First, the learner must have an awareness of what they don’t know and that there is room for growth.  If you have ever tried to “teach” somebody something they believe they are already know, you know this is a not-to-be-missed stop in the learning journey.

Next, we must manage learner overwhelm that can emerge when a learner realizes how much there is to be learned. Strong organization of the content and practice is important in this phase.

Third, the learner moves into the world and practices. Coaching and ongoing feedback is important here.

Finally, the learner arrives into unconscious application. When the learner becomes a subject matter expert, they quickly forget that what is obvious to them is not so obvious to the rest of us mere novices.

This is where effective subject matter interview techniques become critical. Needs analysis is focused on figuring out how we move novices down the competency spectrum. To figure out what content must be included, we have to get into the minds of the experts. We will talk more about how we do this in the next installment.

By the way, I couldn’t resist sharing the Star Wars poster found on Demotivate Us. Definitely, a classic “I didn’t even know that I didn’t know that” moment.