Category Archives: instructional design

4MAT Train-the-Trainer: How Learning Happens

A learner’s preferences indicate where the learner lingers in the learning cycle. Regardless of learning style, every learner moves through all four stages of the 4MAT learning cycle. In The Art of Changing the Brain, Dr. James Zull shares that there are four stages of the Learning Cycle:

  Neuro-speak Translation
1 We have a concrete experience. Something happens
2 We engage in reflective observation and create new connections. We watch and reflect.
3 We generate abstract hypotheses. We think about it.
4 We do active testing of hypotheses, have a new concrete experience and a new learning cycle ensues. We move into action, something happens and the cycle begins again

 4MAT Training model

4MAT and learning styles

When we follow the 4MAT Learning model to design and deliver, we craft experiences that mirror the natural learning cycle.

10 Powerpoint Tips for 4MAT Training Design

The use of images is an integral part of the 4MAT training design process. We are constantly on the hunt for new ways to maximize the impact of the visual training tools we have at our disposal as trainers. In our 4MAt train-the-trainer workshops, powerpoint is often declared to be one of the most “painful” learning strategies.

Powerpoints should serve to punctuate knowledge sharing through high-impact visuals. We frequently look to graphic design and visual media artists for inspiration. Garr Reynolds is one of our visual design heroes. Check out his Top 10 tips for Powerpoint design.

3 Things Every Trainer Needs to Know About Learning Styles

Three Things Every Trainer Should Know About Learning Styles Any trainer who has logged a few hours in front of a classroom or read through the diverse spectrum of responses that show up on a post-training reaction survey recognizes that learning differences are real.  A Google search on “learning styles” recently displayed over 16,500,000 results. Clearly, there are many people out there talking about how to address learning styles. What should a trainer know to address learning differences? There are three things every trainer should know about learning styles:

What is a “learning style”? Learning style refers to personal preference for how you like to take in and process information.  The most recent brain research confirms that when we learn new information, the activity in our brain follows a defined cycle. This path is universal, regardless of learning style.  Your learning style describes the part of the learning process you enjoy most and default to in new learning or problem-solving situations.

 How should I address learning styles? When you first discover that different people have unique preferences, you might think it would be advantageous to group learners by style and teach to their preference. Some learning styles models advocate this.  Brain research shows us that for learning transfer to occur, the learner must move through all four parts of the learning cycle. The 4MAT model provides a framework for addressing the needs of all learning preferences while also ensuring learning transfer.

There is a difference between using “style strategies” and brain-based teaching. In the recently released book Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals by author Ruth Clark, learning styles are referred to as a “myth”.  The idea that we should group learners by style and teach only to their preference is indeed a myth. This book brings forth a healthy distinction in the conversation around learning styles. To engage each learner, we must address their unique needs. To fulfill the learning objective, we must lead the learner through the learning cycle. When you apply the 4MAT model, you accomplish both.

Training Activity: Story in 6 Words or Less?

Can you tell a story in 6 words or less? Hmmm….let’s try:

She just left…I am exhausted.
Thank God, good things still happen.
We came. We conquered. We celebrated.
Hot fudge sundae. I am stuffed.
We kissed. She melted. Mop please!*
Find satisfaction for now, regret tomorrow.*

The challenge to tell a story in 6 words or less was posted on the ASTD National page on LinkedIN. What an interesting idea to paint a picture in a few words–leaving much to the imagination. As I read through the discussion posts, I wondered how we might incorporate this challenge into a training design:

4MAT Connect Activity (Step 1 of a 4MAT Training Design): Encourage the learners to reflect on their experiences around the training concept. Have them write a story about their experience in 6 words or less. Imagine learners reflecting on their experiences of “great mentor relationships” or difficulty in “resolving conflicts” or “being part of a powerful team”. What stories might they share in 6 words or less? What powerful dialogue might emerge as the learners explored their 6 Word Stories further?

Who are YOU? In 6 words or less, can you tell your story?

How else might we use a “6 Words or Less” Story Exercise?

*Posted comments on ASTD LinkedIn page

4MAT Train-the-Trainer: 6 Ideas for Improving Lecture

In our 4MAT Train the Trainer live and web classes, we facilitate an exercise where each of the four learning style groups gives examples of painful learning situations particular to their style. As many of you already know, the 4MAT Type One Learners appreciate relevance and meaning in a learning situation. Type One’s will tell you that it is painful when there is absolutely no dialogue or any sense of personal connection to the content or the group.. Guess what all four styles find painful: boring lecture.

I think we all know this, which explains why two of the most frequent questions we hear regarding lecture are:

-How do you make lecture interesting?

-How long is too long?

On his blog (which we love) Dr.John Medina shared the following:

“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 happens at the 10-minute mark to cause such trouble? Nobody knows. The brain seems to be making choices according to some stubborn timing pattern, undoubtedly influenced by both culture and gene. This fact suggests a teaching and business imperative: Find a way to arouse and then hold somebody’s attention for a specific period of time.”

Personally, I think a 20-25 minute lecture is ideal. If we subscribe to the idea that at each 10 minute marker, we need to shake things up frequently. Here are some “shake and bake” strategies:

Images-Images trump words every time. What image activity might you use to compel, intrigue and provoke the learner? Visual Explorer tools are excellent for this. What about a video clip or metaphor? There are plenty of free video sources out there.

Chunk-“Well-organized” is the key criteria in evaluating lectures. Learners describe painful lectures as “wandering”, “disorganized” and “all over the place”. Chunk the information into the big ideas. Introduce the big ideas and the organization of the lecture at the beginning. If you are using powerpoint, set up the structure for the lecture visually in the first few slides. (More on this in a future post-stay tuned).

Weave –a good lecture weaves together all the topics around a central concept. Make sure everything you deliver is shared in connection with everything else. Think of each piece of information as a thread and the overall lecture as a tapestry.

Stories-We learn in the context of human experience. Stories are containers for information. A well-crafted story packages up the information for the learner to store effectively.

Interactives-Active processing during the lecture can extend the time limit of attention. Think about incorporating “teach-backs” or partner shares throughout the lecture.

Powerpoints-. Powerpoints are not tele-prompters. Minimize the text-one phrase or sentence that captures the essence of the message is enough. Make sure the image aligns and reinforces what you are saying.

4MAT Training Opening Activity: The Difference that Makes a Difference

I took along David Rock and Linda Page’s book, Coaching with the Brain in Mind, on a recent trip to an off-site train the trainer program. This is an excellent “textbook” for 4MAT trainers interested in learning the brain basis for effective transformation of behaviors. Rock and Page reference Bandler and Grinder’s work on paradigm shifts calling them “the difference that makes a difference”. They go on to give us metaphors for this shift including, “a curtain lifted”, “a light went on” or “I’m seeing with new eyes”. As I read this, I thought what a great 4MAT Connect step for a design. For example, imagine opening with this as a Connect activity:

 “We have all experienced a moment when everything  shifted for us. Sometimes this is a radical shift in our life: a marriage, a birth or a loss. Other times, it is as subtle as comment that someone makes in passing. This is the “difference that makes a difference”. When has a difference made a difference in your life?

Where might you apply this?

A customer service training focused on the little things that make a big difference.

A goal workshop focused on how incremental improvements create the progress.

A creative thinking workshop illustrating how a simple shift in perspective can radically change the view.

In the 4MAT model of design, we emphasize the bigger concept that overarches the content. Concepts transcend the content. Where else might you apply the concept of a “Difference that makes a difference”?

An Exclusive Web Workshop with Bruce Tulgan, best-selling author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

Almost every time I am in dialogue with a group of trainers on learning styles, someone will ask about leading the younger generation. We invited Generation expert, Bruce Tulgan, author of 17 books on what makes the New Generation tick, to share the greatest myths surrounding Gen X and Gen Y. As a trainer, there is much to be learned from Bruce’s research on what must be present to optimize engagement of this group of learners: Watch the Bruce Tulgan: Not Everyone Gets a Trophy video.

Power Phrases for Effective Training Facilitation

6170_1209261548246_1129939012_30668483_6822462_sLast week, I received this photo from a former colleague. A team of us had just happily completed a low ropes course–including  the “spider web” in the photo. (That’s me in the lower right hand corner-circa mid 80’s). The spider web metaphor in this training is powerful.

In our 4MAT train the trainer programs, we often describe the process of facilitating learning as weaving a web. As a facilitator, you draw people into the conversation and link the emerging thoughts together. You redirect the conversation, based on the common objectives the group has defined. You help the learner to see the emerging pattern of thought.

The language you use helps weave the conversation together. Here are some power phrases I’ve heard and often used that work welly:

“Susan brought up a great point. Specifically, the point you raise about ….is relevant to our conversation today.”

Here the facilitator acknowledges the value of the contribution. This encourages further sharing by the group. Notice how one, specific point was acknowledged, isolated and linked to the relevance of the learning conversation.

“Let’s talk about your expectations today and see how we can customize our time together.”

When you begin a learning design with an activity that defines expectations, you build collective ownership in the learning process.

“Let’s go back to our expectations mindmap and see how we are doing.”

A clear set of expectations will help you manage side-bar conversations. If the dialogue starts to move off-track, you can lead the group back to the expectations. This will help the group table conversations that are not immediately relevant to the learning objectives.

“Is everyone feeling comfortable with this? Are we ready to move to (applying this, the next piece of information)? Is there any part of the conversation that needs to be revisited?”

These questions allow the facilitator to check in on the comfort level. Notice there is no mention of “Do you understand?”  Many learners are not comfortable acknowledging that they are confused.  

“That’s a great question. Does anyone want to add to this or respond to Mike’s question?”

Here the facilitator is thrown a question. The facilitator’s response expands the dialogue to the larger group. When a learner asks a question, repeat it for the whole group or pose it to the group. Otherwise, the conversation narrows to a one-on-one and everyone else checks out. 

What works for you?  Share any questions, phrases or techniques that work well for you.

Facilitating Effective Dialogue

“…people only complain about something because they are committed to the value or importance of something else. Thus in avoiding the energy and language of complaint, or regarding it as a force that needs to be expunged, we are also losing the chance to bring vitalizing energy of commitment into the workplace.”

-Kegan and Lahey, Seven Languages for Transformation, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work

The first step in designing a 4MAT-based training design is to tap in to the commitment of the learner. The method we use is dialogue. 

In our 4MAT train the trainer programs, many trainers share that they are nervous about creating open dialogue in a training. “What if it goes off track? What if they start griping about things I can’t do anything about?”

The only way we can tap in to the learner’s commitment to the content is to welcome the dialogue. The dialogue will tell you what the learner is committed to. When a learner says they “hate touchy-feely activities “, what they are really telling you is that they are committed to something else. It’s your job to figure out what that is. When we get stuck on defending or fixing the complaint, we miss the bigger message being delivered. With each complaint, the learner is giving us the key to engagement-what it is that they are truly wanting to create.

The Ebert Effect


“The Ebert Effect: When people, from their perspective, are inundated with indistinguishable choices, they perceive a product, service, approach or experience with a specific point of differentiation to be superior.”

In Collapse of Distinction , author Scott McKain shares that we must create “small, solid points of distinction” that are recognizable to our customers. Humans get bored. A notable difference in  one experience over another grabs our attention. Different is better well, because it is different.

The ultimate measure of training is the impact on business result. Business results are rooted in competitive advantage. Competitive advantage is ultimately defined by the behaviors of every single employee.

If our customers haven’t been surprised by what we are doing in the last year, we are in danger of losing them to boredom. This is equally true of our external customer and our internal customer who consumes the training we deliver.

One-size-fits-all  Train the Trainer programs don’t deliver the ability to adapt to the unique needs of every learner. To adapt, to surprise, and to delight the learner trainers must have a deep knowledge of how learning happens.