Why an Expert isn’t Always the Best Trainer

 Have you ever brought in an expert to train your people and had the training session fail? Experts have a great deal of knowledge but often times you need an instructional designer or trainer to get the knowledge to your employees.

Experts and novices approach a topic differently. The expert has a great deal of understanding and for them, the procedures and processes they do are simple, almost second-nature. For the novice, they are starting at the beginning and need each step broken down. The difficulty is that the expert sees connection in the procedure and doesn’t need to break down steps completely and so when they try to teach the novice, they make assumptions about the information and combine steps in a way that the novice can’t connect with. The end result is that both the expert and the novice are frustrated.

This is where the instructional designer/trainer comes in. This person becomes the translator between the two. The instructional designer/trainer leverages the learners ability, connects information to their prior knowledge and motivates the novice to learn and develop competence with knowledge being taught.


Each learner has innate ability and the instructional designer/trainer understands learners and is able to quickly develop an understanding of the learner’s ability. They use this to break down steps into simple chunks that will help the learner acquire new information.

Prior Knowledge

When learning, people connect new information to existing information. The instructional designer/trainer understands how to make connections between information the learner already knows and new knowledge. They are practiced at finding commonality between new information and topics that are more familiar to the learner. They also know how to get the learner thinking about relevant information that will prepare them to understand new information.


Learner desire to learn new information and the value they place on learning it have an impact on their ability to acquire new knowledge. The more motivated the learner, the more likely they are to overcome learning obstacles and retain information. The instructional designer/trainer understands how to develop motivation for the learner and keep them motivated throughout training. They know to make sure the learner understands the benefits of acquiring the new information. Additionally they understand that building the learner’s confidence with the material will keep them motivated throughout the learning process. By scaffolding successful accomplishments for the learner, they keep the learner motivated.

While subject matter experts provide valuable knowledge to your organization, an instructional designer/trainer is able to gather the information from the expert and craft it into an effective learning experience that delivers the information to the learner in chunks that are clear and motivate the learner to be a successful learner.

Are You Ready to Move Forward

  • Do you have a plan?
  • Does everyone know the plan and their role in the plan?
  • Can [team member] explain the plan to me?

These are three great questions to lay-out before your team as they finish up the planning process, before they start to implement a project. While they are simple, each questions helps make sure that the team is ready to move into implementation.


Do you have a plan?

This first question is designed to make sure that the team is ready to move from planning to implementation. To often, teams of people decide to start developing and implementing a solution without laying out a full plan. People want to believe that the rest of the plan will become clear once they take the first steps. While it may be true that things will become clearer, it is still necessary to start with a plan. Just because you have outlined a plan, doesn’t mean that you will not evolve your plan as more information becomes clear or unforseen issues arise. Flexibility is essential as I wrote about in a previous post, Have a Plan…Have Felxibility. Having goals of the end results of an initiative or what deliverable you will create is essential to understanding what you need to do in order to achieve it. It is also essential to determine the metrics you will use to judge success and implement a proper assessment through knowing the end result and the path to getting there.


Does everyone know the plan and their role in the plan?

This question is the glue of a team. Having one person who understands the goals and the plan and is directing others is having a puppet master with puppets, it is not a team. Asking this question does two things, first, it makes sure that everyone is included and involved and secondly, it ensures that each person knows and understands their role is the success of the project. Too often, there is a need to know attitude. The problem with this is that if a person is unclear on their role, they are unlikely to meet project expectations. They will not properly allocate their time or resources and ultimately, their contribution may not represent their best work because it is done last minute. It is also importasnt for people to understand how their piece of the project fits into the whole. Two things happen when a team member understands the entire project, first they feel valued because they are fully a part of the team, secondly, they are able to provide work that is cohesive with others work and with the project timeline. Further, if the project leader is removed from the team, the project will suffer less of a setback if the rest of the team understands the entire project.


Can [team member] explain the plan to me?

This question is the meat of determining if the team is ready to end the planning phase. The key here is to ask a team member to explain the plan and outline the different steps and responsibilities. A good team will make sure that each member understands the entire project and can provide at least overview information about the different steps and the contributions of other team members. It is best to ask a team member who has not the team leader, but a contributor. This increases the likelyhood that all team members do understand and provides an overview given through a different voice than the team leader and providing a different perspective. When a team member can provide this information, they are more likely to collaborate with others when issues arise and direct questions to the appropriate team members.


While the implementation phase of a project is where the bulk of the time and energy is spent, the planning phase is the most important because it prepares the team for success. You want to make sure that you do not move from the planning phase too soon. These questions help you determine if the project is ready to move forward successfully.

Gamification: Case Study Plan

Last winter I took a wonderful class on Gamification through Coursera taught by Kevin Werbach. This is my solution to a scenario from the class.

Fictional Scenario:

You are approached by Rashmi Horenstein, the CEO of ShareAll, a prominent company in the hot collaborative consumption space. She asks you to present a proposal for a gamified system to take her business to the next level.

ShareAll’s mission is to make shared use of products and services as common as individual purchases. ShareAll’s patented technology makes it easy for consumers and business to share any product or service.  ShareAll has also developed a global virtual currency, called Shares, which can be used to purchase access to any asset in the system. Shares can be exchanged for real money, and users can generate more Shares by sharing items or volunteering their time to complete tasks for others.

ShareAll charges a small transaction fee whenever Shares are generated, traded, or spent. Therefore, the more activity, the more money ShareAll makes. Horenstein tells you that she cares about the social benefits of sustainability.  However, ShareAll is a for-profit company, with investments and partnerships from some of the world’s largest corporations, so profits matter. Horenstein believes gamification could significantly help ShareAll’s business.


Business Objectives

ShareAll has stated the following goals for its business:

  • Increase the use of shared goods through ShareAll – This includes building a vibrant community and building trust between users
  • High profits – This  involves an large number of “Shares” being generated, traded and spent.
  • Educate and engage users in the social benefits of sustainability

Gamification can help ShareAll accomplish this by highlighting the advantages of access versus ownership, motivating people to engage in this community and adding an additional element of fun to the already rewarding opportunity to have unique experiences and connect with new people.

Target Behaviors

  • Offer products and services – In order to develop a vibrant community, there needs to be people offering services and goods. The offering needs to be extensive and varied to attract a variety of users. This generates “shares” being traded and redeemed. Goal/quest setting and experience point rewards will encourage players to engage in this.
  • Buy products or services – In order to sustain a vibrant community, there need to be people who take advantage of the goods and services offered. This generates “shares” being generated and traded. Goal/quest setting and experience point rewards will encourage players to engage in this.
  • Develop complete profile and leave feedback/recommendations on offers taken advantage of – A part of building a community of trust involves players sharing information about themselves and others sharing feedback on products and services. Trust is important to sustaining the community and developing a pattern of use as opposed to a one-time trial. Players will receive experience points for completing their profile and posting feedback.
  • Contribute information and experiences to the community – In order to educate and encourage people in the community, it is important to have information about the positive aspects of access versus ownership, the social benefits of sustainability, and positive experiences of users. This will include site blogs and resources to target these topics. Players become involved in developing posts for the site blogs when they have achieved certain experience levels. This promotes advocacy among frequent users. Additionally players will also have personal statistics showing how they have engaged in the site and participated in being a part of this community. Players will receive badges as they achieve in this area and have the option to have certain data reported as a part of a leader board of connections.


The players that will be engaged in ShareAll will be very diverse in age, background, ethnic status, economic status and have different goals, but the players will exhibit one or more of the following:

  • People with goods or services to offer – recognize that they have resources that they are not using and could generate money or be traded for different goods or services.
  • People who are searching for short-term access to a good or service – recognize that access can is sufficient for them to enjoy a good and more practical/cost effective.
  • People more interested in experiences/opportunities than materialism.
  • People who are interested in meeting new people and developing new relationships as a part of offering or using other people’s goods/services.

Activity Loops

Experience Points – As users engage in different aspects of the site, they will receive points that build up their character profile. Points will be awarded in different character elements such as Adventurer, Merchandiser, Socialite, Influencer, etc. As players engage in different aspect of the site, they gain experience points which would improve their “character”. For instance, purchasing a snorkeling trip guide, would earn you adventurer points, offering to guide a snorkeling trip would earn you merchandiser points, connecting to the guide (or friends) and posting about the experience on your profile would earn you socialite points, and leaving feedback about the snorkel trip of the sellers offering would earn you influencer points. Players would develop their profile based on there interests and activities. Higher levels of points would be earned for setting and accomplishing  goals/quests. As people achieve higher experience levels in these areas, they would earn the opportunity to write a post(s) to the site blogs in the area related to their character element. This would take regular users and give them opportunities to be site advocates. Users who reach this status and have published blog posts would receive “share” currency for the post. High experience in Adventurer or Merchandiser would also lead to a reduced transaction fees.

Goals/Quests – Users can select up to three quests/goals. These might be things such as stay at five different rental places in five different places, provide 50 rides to others, or provide feedback on 20 different offerings. Users would set these goals and they would be a part of their profile that could be viewed by people they have connected with (or by anyone based on profile privacy settings) so that others could help them or offer encouragement. Achieving these goals/quests would earn the player experience points and certain goals/quests would also include a “share” reward. Some of these “share” rewards would be sponsored by the site while others might be designed and sponsored by ShareAll’s strategic partners, whether they be businesses, organizations, or individuals that want to reward a particular behavior.

Tracking – The site would track certain statistics that would be available to the player such as money made from offerings, money saved from purchasing access versus owning a good and other usage statistics such as number of connections, feedback left, transactions, etc. For those who wanted to, they could share parts or all of this information with connections and have leader board comparisons for different information. These statistics would generate different badges that would become a part of a person’s profile.

Social Connections – Players would develop a profile. This profile would include general information about the person but also would provide the opportunity for the player to share other information such as goals, interests, etc. The player also could post about different experiences from offerings on the site such as their experience with a user from an offering they posted or there experience from an offer they took advantage of. These posts would be on the profile available to people who view their profile (per privacy settings) and also available in their connections’ news feeds. This allows connections to follow your experiences and comment on them. Completing profile elements and posting earns the player experience points for the socialite character element.


Some of the ways the ShareAll community will bring people together and provide players fun include (but are not limited to):

  • Helping other people meet goals and experience new things.
  • Develop new social connections with people they engage in transactions with and further connections with friends.
  • Open the door to experiences and opportunities that would otherwise not be available to them.
  • Develop their ShareAll character in ways that interest them and reflect their engagement of the site.
  • Learn about other’s experiences through the site blogs and learn how they are building a communal, sustainable community.

Deployment Tools


  • ShareAll will be deployed via a website that also has a corresponding app. Users will sign up to be a part of the service and be able to create a profile. Users will be encouraged to complete the profile and begin to earn experience points. As users engage in different activities such a offering goods or services, purchasing goods or services, connecting with friends, and leaving feedback on transaction experiences, they will earn experience points in the appropriate category. All users will be able to see other’s username and the different levels of character trait development. As players attain certain levels in different character traits, they will be rewarded with opportunities to contribute to the appropriate site blog. If their high levels are in traits that are based on transactions, they will also unlock a lower transaction rates.
  • Players will also have the opportunity to select up to three goals/quests at a time and achieving these will boost their experience levels. Some of these goals will be sponsored by the site or by different strategic partners and will also include a “share” reward. For instance an automotive company may want to sponsor a goal/quest involving ride sharing or an individual may want to sponsor a goal that involves volunteering for a specific organization for 100 hours. This provides an opportunity for strategic partners to be a part of the system, engage users and encourage certain behaviors that benefit them. Players will be able to make these goals public, shared with connections, or private on their profile. When goals are shared, others can encourage others with their goals.
  • Through the player’s profile, the player will be able to follow other players or specific offerings, share experiences and comment on a connection’s experiences, see statistics on money made, saved, and others helped, etc and invite connections to compete on these statistics.
  • Gamifying the site will motivate players participation through the different game mechanics, create a vibrant community that is highly profitable for ShareAll and educate players on the benefits of access and sustainability.

Make Commitments You Can Honor and Honor Your Commitments

One of our most important assets is our reputation and it is important to build and guard your reputation. One of the ways we do this is honoring the commitments we make. Therefore, it is important to consider a commitment before we make it to determine our willingness, ability, and likelihood of honoring it. This holds true for concrete deals like an employment contract and to implied deals made to colleagues or direct reports. As a leader, we need to be very thoughtful about our words.

How to Determine if We Can Honor the Commitment

Assuming that the commitment is being made in good faith and we intend to honor it, the reality is that sometimes our focus is distracted from honoring our part of the deal. To this end here are three things to consider when making a commitment to ensure that you are making a commitment that you can and will honor.


Is our goal to help the other person or is our goal to help ourselves? Ideally the deal will benefit both parties, but how we perceive the benefits of the commitment can influence our follow-through. The more we perceive self benefit, whether tangible or intangible, the more likely we are to prioritize what we have agreed to do and honor the commitment.


What is the timing of the benefit versus our commitment? Do we benefit after all parts of the agreement have come to pass or is our benefit happen before we honor our portion of the commitment. Unfortunately, after we have received the benefit, we are more likely to be distracted by other things and lose focus on what we have promised to do and it is easier for other things to become prioritized after we have already received the benefit.

People Involved

Who needs to be involved to meet the commitment and what resources are involved? Before making a deal, we need to consider who else will be impacted and what resources we need. We need to consider if we have the authority to make the commitment and will it require action on the part of one or more others. If the deal involves others to approve actions taken or to take the actions on our behalf, we need to be careful when making the commitment because we are speaking for others. We also need to understand the resources involved and make sure they are at our disposal.

What Happens When You Can’t Honor the Commitment?

Even when you have considered these things before making a commitment, things can go awry, but we should be committed to making sure that these are the rare exception, not the rule. If we do find ourselves unable to honor a commitment, we can minimize the loss of reputation by handling it properly:

  1. Take ownership – It is important that we take personal responsibility for the issue. Shifting blame or pretending the commitment didn’t exist will only harm our reputation more. People will resent a leader’s inability to take responsibility and lose respect for the person.
  2. Apologize – Humbling yourself and saying you are sorry can be a difficult thing to do. In a society that espouses, “friendship means never having to say you are sorry” and tells us that admitting fault is a weakness, it takes great courage to apologize. In reality an apology is a sign of strength and good character. We all makes mistakes, but it is a true leader who can admit them and people respect someone who will apologize.
  3. Make it Right – In the end, you need to do what you can to make it right. You may be able to honor the commitment on a delayed schedule or have to come up with an alternative, but you should do what you can to make it right within your ability. Others will respect your effort and it demonstrates that you care about your commitments and don’t take them casually.

As leaders, our words and commitments are on always on display to be evaluated by those around us. We must consider our commitments and be conscious of implied commitments to make sure they are ones we can and will honor. When we are unable to honor a commitment, it is essential that we take ownership, apologize, and try to make it right.

The One Question You Should Always Ask

Whether you are talking to a SME, working with contractors, hiring a new employee or just about any situation you are trying to gather information, there is one question you should always ask:

What haven’t I asked that I should have?

Question_PuzzleOver the years, this question (or a variation on it) has served me countless times. Asking this question draws on the expertise of the person you are talking to. It causes them to analyse the conversation you have just had and compare it to their experiences and knowledge. It usually brings out the greatest gems of information. When talking to a SME, it has brought out time-saving tips and tricks or ideas that are revolutionary and innovative. From contractors, it has drawn on their greater experience on process and we were able hash out details that make the whole process of our working relationship smoother. It has saved time and money. With potential employees, it has allowed them to share the skills, interests and experiences that have not conveniently fit into the questions asked but that the candidate really wants me to know. It has been a way to discover hidden talents and interests so that the best hiring decisions can be made.

The reality is that as much as we prepare for conversations with others, we will not necessarily have the right questions to get all the information and this simple question, often covers that gap. Next time you are collecting information from someone, give it a try. Ask them, What haven’t I asked you that I should have? Experience the difference for yourself.


Customize it!

Everything these days is customized…your burger at fast food restaurants…your wedding vows…your new car and using variables and advanced actions in Adobe Captivate, so can your e-learning.

In a recent course I created on Interview skills I decided to include an interview simulations. In addition to the feedback that happened throughout the scenario, I decided to provide a summary of customized feedback at the end of the scenario.


Setting the Scene

I designed a scenario for the training that many managers would face, hiring a person for a counter sales position.


User Decisions

The user then goes through the scenario, making decisions about actions to take and questions to ask. I attached the responses to variables using standard actions so that when a user chooses a specific answer it may add one to the variable.


Receiving Feedback

At the end of the scenario, the user receives customized feedback on the interview they conducted. I was able to use a conditional action to evaluate the variables and based on the variables value, show certain feedback. This allows the feedback to be very specific to the choices the employee made.


From a Technical Side

So for each decision that a user was going to make, I created a variable. When the employee clicks on a decision choice, it either activates a standard action that increments the variable by one or it does nothing, leaving the value of the variable alone. Clicking the choices also moves the scenario forward based on the decision made. At the end of the scenario, the user receives summary feedback. For the summary feedback section at the end of the scenario, I created invisible text boxes with different feedback for each of the major concepts that I wanted to give the employee feedback on. Most times there were two different feedback options, but for some there were more. Advanced Action ScreenUpon entry to the slide, I used a conditional action to evaluate the variables. For each variable, I set up the action to evaluate the value of the variable and based on that value, it would show a specific text box. For instance, if the value of the variable was 1, it would show text box A, else, it would show text box B.


This allowed me to provide customized feedback to each employee taking the course. I also allow them to go through the scenario repeatedly so it was important that I attached a standard action to my restart button that clears all the feedback and resets the value of all the variables back to 0.

If you are interested in creating some customized feedback Adobe Captivate’s variables and advanced actions are a great way to do this. If you would like more information about this process, reach out to me and I would be happy to help you.



Don’t Get Mad…Get Better

MadBabyI recently had an experience where a participant in one of my training sessions came to me during a break and handed me a piece of paper with tic marks on it for each time I said “uh” during the session. Inside I was feeling defensive and couldn’t help but notice this person using “uh” as he was explaining this was a pet peeve for him and that he had gone to special training to to improve his public speaking. But the reality is, that each time a person finds fault and they tell you, it is a gift and an opportunity to become better.

Here are my 5 Steps to not get mad, but get better:

  • Hear what the person is pointing out, not the tone or the presentation. When we get caught up in how someone says something, we are more likely to get defensive. Take a deep breath and choose not to get mad.
  • Asses what they are saying for truth. Think about the content and find the truth in it. In my example, I presenting round-table and sitting with all the participants and had allowed my language to be more lax.
  • Determine what you need to change to improve for the future. Outline steps you can take to make a change and improve your work, or in this case my delivery style. This particular thing was something I had addressed earlier in my career and recorded presentations so that I could hear myself and become more self-aware.
  • Implement your improvement plan. Take action to resolve the issue or build up your skills and abilities.
  • Evaluate the improvement. Always look back to see the improvement. Ideally, if the person who originally brought it up can give you another honest assessment, ask them. This makes sure that person knows you heard them and care about what they said and took action.

Growth and improvement is key to building our career and our self as a person and other people around us are our best source of information for areas where we can improve. The next time someone points something out to you, don’t get mad…GET BETTER!

Training, Sales, and Marketing

What role does sales and marketing take in your training implementation and delivery?

If you said, none, you are missing opportunities. In today’s world, people are consumers of everything, including knowledge. They are constantly setting priorities around an understanding of what’s in it for them.

If you don’t consider how to market your training and sell learners on the importance of your information, you are reducing your training impact. Even when training is required, learner’s can be physically present without being “present”. If you want to be your training to be impactful, it is key to have the learner actively invested and engaged.

Ways to market and sell your training:

  • Before creating a training program, you have done some analysis, so use that information to target your audience and invite those with the most need for the training. Make sure the right people know about your training event.
  • Communicate analysis information so that people are ware of knowledge or performance gaps and what the potentials for change are.
  • Create a buzz for new initiatives or programs. Give people enough to make them wonder and if your budget can sustain it, a give-away that will be a reminder of the initiative or event. Continually reminders of something build a psychological affinity for it.
  • Use social media and communications to put out short sound bites to build a buzz. Post questions or relevant facts and invite people to interact. Use acronyms or clever slogans to make it memorable.
  • Make sure the learner knows what is in it for them. Tap into their motivation by making sure how this information is going to make their lives easier by improving efficiency, better by increasing their bottom line and financial compensation or their status, or more fun. Training is an investment of a person’s time, emotional, and maybe even financial resources. Make sure they know what you offer is worth the cost!

Are you actively marketing and selling your training? If not, it is time to reevaluate your approach.

Just a Little Respect

I want respect and you want respect and we both respect each other, but why don’t we feel respected?

It all comes down to the definition of respect, which is different for different generations. Each generation has its own associations and ideas about respect.

The Baby Boomers see respect as being linked with authority. They respect their elders, their boss, and others based on the authority they have. Gen X’ers tie respect into trust. They respect people and companies that they can put their faith in and believe will be successful and has proven results. Finally the Gen Y’ers see it as something that is earned, not given. They are looking for companies and people that “do good” and care. They respect those which they can genuinely like.

With each of these different ideas of what respect is, it is easy for respect to be misunderstood in the workplace. Respect becomes like a language, but if you don’t speak the language of the people around you, the message gets lost. In the workplace, we have to learn to understand how others understand and view respect so that we can respect them in ways that make them feel respected.

It is also important to understand that because ideas of respect are different, what appears to be respectful behavior from someone, may not mean they respect you at all. For instance, an employee may do a project the way their boss tells them, but because they don’t associate authority and respect, the employee may not be communicating respect, but instead a lack of trust that their boss will hear their ideas or concerns with a project.

For companies to develop a positive work environment, it is essential that company leaders understand the ways their employees understand respect to correctly understand what is going on around the office.

Let me leave you with some final thoughts about respect:

  • All people have inherent worth and are deserving of respect
  • Respect is a choice, not an emotion

Gamification: Exploring Narrative

The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser

Narrative is a part of the fabric of life and has been used as a teaching tool in all cultures. In early civilizations, stories were passed down generation to generation and these stories contained information and wisdom the people needed to survive and grow. Story continues to be a big part of our lives, whether it is the stories of the people around us or fictional stories. They are a key component in information and ideas we have learned and according to a study done at North Carolina University, narrative has an impact on motivation in learning.

Narrative is also a key element in game design. Think of games you enjoy, many of them involve quests or narrative. Game quests generally fall into types such as delivery, find, destroy, collect, master a skill, escort/defend. Between a web seminar and blog post by Allen Partridge and starting to play Wizards 101, the idea of narrative and gamification has been in my thinking.

ScreenHunter_96 Sep. 27 13.01Currently, I have  scenarios for the learner. These scenarios are typical job situations, from the scenario, the learner has to collect information and then they are given a tutorial on how to accomplish the tasks needed. This is followed by opportunities for them to have practice and then there is an assessment of the goals. The quest, so to speak, is to complete the task for the customer (in this case back ordering material).

From my recent experiences, I have been inspired to consider how I can use embed narrative throughout the lesson, beyond just presenting a scenario. One of the key ideas to keep in mind when doing this is to make sure learning objectives and game-play objectives are aligned. Gamification needs to add learning value, not just to take the learning and place it into a random cute scenario.

I realize that wrapping up my scenario at the end will also allow me to show customer feedback and the role of customer service and the employees ability to perform tasks efficiently to improving the bottom line. I look forward to weaving this and other narrative feedback into the storyboards I am currently working on.

Some keys to remember:

  • The narrative objectives need to fit the learning objectives. In the end, it is the learning that needs to take the starring role.
  • Narrative can help provide a framework and a scenario that allows you to provide feedback elements.
  • The “quest” doesn’t have to be complex to be engaging.