The secret of good design: action-mapping not information-dumping

I’ve long been a fan of Cathy Moore so was excited to find that one of the workshops at Training 2010 was focusing on putting Cathy’s excellent Action Mapping™ approach into action. Rob Hubbard, who now swears by this approach, opened the workshop by asking the group ‘what is good design?’ The key words that came up were: efficient, relevant, engaging, timely, concise and results-focused (encouragingly similar to my own thoughts about good e-learning). Action Mapping™ helps to achieve most, if not all, of these goals.

The idea is simple, and makes complete sense. One of my guiding principles of instructional design is focusing on what people need to do, not just what they need to know. For instance, when designing learning outcomes I avoid verbs like ‘describe’ or ‘understand’, and instead choose action verbs. Cathy’s technique is a great way to put this principle into practice and deliver learning content that really hits the mark.

Rather than starting with an information dump, start with a blank sheet of paper. And then work through this sequence of questions:

  1. What business goal do you want to achieve?
  2. What actions do people need to take to achieve that?
  3. What activities do people need to complete each required action? What practice activity can you design for each action?
  4. What information is absolutely necessary to allow them to complete each practice activity?

That information – and only that information – is what needs to go into your course. The challenge then is to design a thread or story to pull it all together in a way that will enable learners to easily and effectively carry out the same activities and actions in real life. This in turn will contribute to the business goal identified at the start of the process. (That was a fairly basic, paraphrased explanation of Action Mapping™. Be sure to take a look at Cathy’s slideshow for the real thing.)

So, going back to the key characteristics of good design that we brainstormed at the start of the workshop:

  • Only the most useful information makes it into the course, keeping it relevant and results-focused
  • Superfluous information is cut out or stored elsewhere, keeping it concise and efficient
  • A realistic, thought-provoking thread focuses on what people need to do, keeping it engaging

Timeliness can’t really be achieved through Action Mapping™ alone, but five out of six isn’t bad!


4 thoughts on “The secret of good design: action-mapping not information-dumping

  1. Tony Burnett

    Oh how glad am I that this has been posted when I need it and not after I had stmbled through the minefield of information and strategies available through Google.

    I am in the process of redeveloping our eLearning fundamentals course and was most pleased to see that I had hit 3 out of 4 principles! Having this in a stuctured and easy to follow blog post however has tied this all together.

    many thanks for this blog — I’ll be sure to use it in the very near future!

    1. stephaniededhar Post author

      Hi Tony, thanks for reading and for your comment. While I can’t take credit for the approach itself, I’m very glad to have added some value by summarising it in a useful way! Good luck with the redevelopment of your course – I’d love to hear how you get on with implementing this approach.

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