Tag Archives: training design

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”?

Meaning Part 1: 4MAT and Conscious Competence Model

“Memory is enhanced by creating associations between concepts. This experiment has been done hundreds of times, always achieving the same result:  Words presented in a logically organized, hierarchical structure are much better remembered than words placed randomly-typically 40% better”1

We begin every 4MAT Train the Trainer program with an expectations exercise, exploring the training design issues our participants want to explore. One of the most common issues is how to seamlessly connect the parts of the design. Creating associations between the pieces of content being shared embeds meaning. When the learner understands the underlying meaning that connects the topics, learning increases significantly.

In Brain Rules, author John Medina references the work of John Bransford, an education researcher who answered the question, “What separates novices from experts?” Bransford identified six characteristics. One of the characteristics is relevant to the conversation around meaning in learning.  “[Experts’] knowledge is not simply a list of facts and formulas that are relevant to their domain; instead their knowledge is organized around core concepts or “big ideas” that guide their thinking about their domains.”

When working with subject-matter experts, the trainer should be focused on determining these concepts.  This might sound easy.  However, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the possible content topics and miss the bigger idea.

What if we simply asked the experts to identify the concepts? This sounds like a simple solution, but one of the outcomes of growing expertise, is the tendency to forget what it is like to be a novice. The conscious competence model illustrates the movement from unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent well:

 4Mat and Conscious Compentence Model

When working with subject matter experts, the trainer must lead the expert to a next level of competence-an awareness of conscious competence.  In the next installment of this series, we will talk more about how awareness of the conscious competence model influences training design.

This is the first of a four-part series on getting to the concept. Stay tuned.

1Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Seattle: Pear Press, 2008.

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.

Are you crafting experiences or making some "thing"

coffee cup

“Simply roasting coffee, brewing it, or pouring it into a cup for someone is merely the performance of a simple service. In the absence of a wider, experiential understanding, all you’re doing is putting a hot liquid into a mug.”

-Lewis P Carbone, Clued In:  How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again

If you had to describe how you want your customers to feel after an interaction with you or your company in three words, what would those three words be? We are talking about how they feel, not what they think about the interaction.

Training and Development is focused on impacting behaviors that drive business results. When training is primarily focused on doing, we miss the biggest part of how consumers evaluate an experience with a company. To craft a brand-defining experience, every employee must have a concrete understanding of  the bigger concept of what is being delivered to the customer.

Apple understands this concept. I have lost count of how many times I have heard the word “cool” used by a Mac owner to describe their brand experience.

What words would your customers use to describe their experience?

What is Learning?


We all perceive and then process our experiences, along with the information gained from the experiences. The differences in thewe approach these two activities define our learning style. 

Perceiving: how  we take in information-through experiences, reading, listening, visualizing or other sensory modes

Processing: how we determine the meaning, store and retrieve information-reflecting, watching, jumping in and doing, sitting back and observing

 These differences define our learning style.  Type One learners are feelers and watchers. Type Two learners are watchers and thinkers. Type Three learners are thinkers and doers. Type Four learners are doers and feelers. Your learning style influences your communication, coaching, leading and training style.

Learning is so much more than classroom instruction. Reading an email,  meeting, coaching, communicating are all learning processes. Our preferences impact how we engage and disengage in every situation that involves taking in and processing information.

What Would Google Do… with learning design?


I just finished reading Jeff Jarvis’ book, What Would Google Do? Jarvis does a great job of moving the learner from passive reader into engaged learner by asking questions.  What Would Google Do? has us ponder what we might learn from history’s fastest growing business. Jarvis suggests that involving your audience in the creative process is a key element of the success of Google.

Communities exist within your company and within your customer base. They exist to facilitate their mutual interest(s). The question isn’t how to create (learning) communities, the question is how to help them do what they are doing better. What forum can you provide that makes connecting and learning more accessible. 1

Questions to ponder:

How can we enable stakeholders to talk, share what they know, support each other, create together?

How do we synthesize all the content “out there”? How do we make it easily findable?

How do we create the ability to “mash-up” content and customize it, as needed?

How do we involve our audience in helping us create content?




How are you involving the learner in the creative process? What tools are you providing for the learner community to connect, share and create with? Would love to hear from you.


1Jarvis, Jeff. What Would Google Do? New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009.

Accountability and Commitment in Learning

” …people will be accountable and committed to what they have a hand in creating. This insight extends to the belief that whatever the worlds demands of us, the people most involved have the collective wisdom to meet the requirements of that demand.”

-Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

There is a false belief that the trainer must embody the wisdom needed to meet the demand of learning transfer. Not true. The collective wisdom is held within the group of “learners”.  To access that wisdom, the learners must become the “most involved” members of the learning process.

Here we go…

Co-author, Hold On, You Lost Me! Use Learning Styles to Create Training that Sticks

Co-author, Hold On, You Lost Me! Use Learning Styles to Create Training that Sticks


I frequently have the opportunity to connect with learning professionals in our 4MAT live and web workshops and the consulting work we do.  The conversation begins with the application of 4MAT, a model for understanding different learning styles.  Inevitably, the dialogue  centers around  questions on how best to apply brain-based design to real-world leadership and learning issues. As learning gurus, the questions that we collectively seem to be most interested in:

How do we engage learners in the content we are sharing?

What are the best practices in training design and delivery that we can learn from?

What’s the best examples of elearning that truly addresses the way the brain learns?

Where can I find examples of powerful activities that engage different learning styles?

Any new, interesting technologies out there that can make design simpler and delivery more engaging?

The intent of this blog is to ponder these questions and create a forum to share the answers we are discovering.  I hope you join the dialogue.