Cathy Moore is an internationally recognized speaker and writer dedicated to saving the world

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ABOUT CATHY MOORE (International e-Learning Thought Leader, Blogger):

Cathy Moore is an internationally recognized speaker and writer dedicated to saving the world from boring instruction. She’s a passionate advocate for improving business performance by respecting and deeply challenging people.

Her advice and designs have been used by organizations that include Microsoft, Pfizer, the US Army, Barclays, and the US Department of the Interior. She’s the creator of the action mapping model of training design used to improve performance by companies worldwide.

A fun speaker, Cathy has been invited to present her ideas for improving instructional design in the US, Australia, UK, Argentina, and Brazil. She’s also an in-demand webinar presenter with an irreverent style.

Cathy’s writing and design have won awards, and she’s served as a design competition judge. Through her blog, she shares ideas with more than 11,000 subscribers the world over.


Crystal Balling with Learnnovators’ is a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape.

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like.


1. Learnnovators: You, as a specialist in instructional design, are on an inspiring journey of saving the world from boring ‘instruction’. We know you help organizations expand the skills of their instructional designers with your action mapping model. How has been your action mapping journey to save the world from boring corporate training so far?

Cathy: I won’t claim responsibility for it, but I’ve seen more willingness among instructional designers to ask questions rather than being told “We need a course on X” and obediently cranking out a course on X. The most common change I’ve noticed is the question “What do you need people to DO?”

2. Learnnovators: It is exciting to see a growing realization that people learn primarily through ‘doing’ rather than ‘knowing’. Formal learning constitutes only a tiny part of the spectrum. In this context, what are some of the ‘instructional’ challenges that these changes have presented to support learners who are successful in managing or self-organizing their own learning (by finding ways to solve their learning problems)? How do you think existing learning models need to evolve to support these workplace learning preferences? What are some of the other ideas that you are presently contemplating to address these new challenges?

Cathy: I actually don’t think these are new challenges. I think adults have always preferred to figure it out for themselves rather than sit through a day of instruction. I think the ability of people to solve their own problems has increased dramatically with the internet, and instructional designers need to go with that flow. We need to stop being order takers and instead analyze the performance problem and identify all the ways to solve that problem, many of which likely include providing just-in-time support, often online.

3. Learnnovators: For a long time now, you have been advocating moving ‘learning’ from hour long courses to shorter bytes of performance support solutions…from a single learning experience to experiences that are embedded more closely in the job. You have been an ardent proponent of on-the-job training as the least expensive and the most effective approach to workplace learning. How encouraging is the growing acceptance of micro-learning today? How do you foresee this strategy (combined with the power of spaced learning and distributed practice) coming up as a powerful alternative to traditional courses?

Cathy: Again, I don’t think this is anything new. I just think that the technology has expanded. Thirty years ago when I was doing technical support for library automation systems, we used approaches that would now be called “micro learning” or “performance support.” We called them “help screens” and “cheat sheets.” My work included writing articles for a monthly printed newsletter that helped system users practice using more advanced techniques, now known as “spaced learning.”  What has changed is the technology. We now have a far bigger toolset, though most of the time we don’t use it well and cling to the familiar, top-down, create-it-and-forget-it “course.”

4. Learnnovators: To quote Charles Jennings, “there’s a ‘conspiracy of convenience’ between many learning & development managers and business managers, which serves as a barrier to effective L&D operations.” In many organizations, managers see ‘training’ as the solution for every performance problem and have courses created to address these. What are some of the challenges you have been facing in guiding your clients through these situations?

Cathy: If instructional designers want to stop producing often pointless courses, they unfortunately need to stand up to what is likely the culture and expectations of their organizations. It seems that few people in business want to actually analyze why something went wrong. Instead, they grab the quickest assumption that makes it not their fault (“The staff need training!”). This blames it on those ignorant employees and avoids making the organization consider causes for which it might be to blame, such as poor or missing tools, ineffective management, inefficient processes, jobs that lack any challenge or reward, and other messy issues. I’ve seen clients use the seemingly innocent questions of action mapping to completely change the direction of their projects as their stakeholders see for themselves that simple ignorance isn’t really the issue. For example, for one client, “We need ethics training” became “We need to change our management culture.”

5. Learnnovators: You are a trustee of the Serious eLearning Manifesto (launched recently by Michael Allen, Clark Quinn, Julie Dirksen, and Will Thalheimer). As we know, it is an attempt to raise the quality of e-Learning; we do support this wonderful initiative and all the 22 principles that the manifesto contains. We see that many of the principles put forth in the manifesto point to the relevance of your Action Mapping strategy to achieve results. However, like many out there, we too are of the opinion that this initiative shouldn’t be limited to only ‘e-learning’ and should encompass all forms of workplace learning. What are your thoughts? But, first tell us a little about ‘L&D Manifesto’ – your inspiring initiative that you released last year, which focuses on all aspects of workplace learning, and not just ‘e-learning’, to proclaim the arrival of a new order. To what extent do you think this has inspired the making of the Serious eLearning Manifesto?

Cathy: I wasn’t involved in the writing of the serious manifesto (and am nearly incapable of being serious), so I don’t know what role, if any, my publication had. We’re all saying essentially the same things in different ways, and I think the more people that we have calling for change, the better. I agree that the recommendations don’t apply just to elearning. I think it’s easier to focus on issues with elearning because it’s easier to examine and critique an online course than, for example, an initiative that combines new job aids with changes in processes, a new forum, and some mini-lessons sent out through email. Also, elearning continues to be a bit of a fad and therefore becomes the target of both attention and dubious claims.

6. Learnnovators: You say “We drone because we are brainwashed in school”. We, like others, believe the reason for this to be the present education system design that was perfected for the needs of ‘industrialization’. What kind of a shift in thinking do you visualize for building a learning system that aligns with the dynamically changing demands of this knowledge age? How do you think L&D practitioners should change themselves, and more importantly, be the ambassadors of this change movement?

Cathy: I won’t blame industrialization for the rote, top-down instruction that has dominated for generations. Cranking out people who are incapable of critical thinking doesn’t help industry at all, as the creators of the many corporate remedial education programs can attest. I think L&D practitioners would benefit from putting on their own critical thinking caps and questioning everything from learning styles to “We need a course on X.” Our industry is far too easily driven by fads, buzzwords, and easy fixes.

7. Learnnovators: You are known for your ‘ideas to steal from marketing’ for bettering e-learning programs, and have been advocating that we steal the tested ways marketing uses to get people to act. What is the most inspiring change that you see in the strategies that are being followed in this age of Social Media Marketing (SMM) that could help e-learning? What would be your ‘call to action’ for instructional designers in this regard?

Cathy: I don’t see social media marketing as being substantially different from other types of marketing in its basic principles: know what your audience needs and why they need it, and help them meet that need when and where they are. Those principles apply equally well to workplace performance and inspire what good performance support providers have been doing for decades: know the challenges faced by the person in the job and provide targeted support at the moment of need. Unfortunately the current approach in L&D is to assume things about learners (rather than to actually analyze what their jobs are like) and to deliver the “solution” as a one-time, one-size-fits-all course.

8. Learnnovators: You are big on self-taught. You say “I learned by observing what worked and didn’t. I was highly motivated to write instruction that would keep people from calling me.” Where do you think instructional designers stand with respect to their skills in designing learning experiences for today’s workforce? What would be your advice for them to upskill (re-learn the strategies) for designing effective learning solutions for today’s situations?

Cathy: I’ve helped a lot of new instructional designers, and the main knowledge gap I see is a lack of understanding of how a business works and what its leaders care about. I think many people get into instructional design because they like making complicated stuff clear and engaging, so they focus on the content they’ve been given and don’t necessarily see its larger role in the organization. I’d suggest that hopeful designers avoid instructional design programs that focus entirely on learning theory and find ones that give you real-world experience helping a business analyze a problem and measurably improve performance.

9. Learnnovators: You are known for your immense passion for sharing your knowledge with others in the community, and more than that, for the way you share that helps your readers ‘experience’ your thoughts. You have many fans out there for your wonderful blog (including us :-)) that carries practical advice and directions to those just starting out in the field as well as to experienced instructional designers. How significant is ‘sharing’ for instructional designers in this age of informal and social learning? What are some of the tips that you could share with those who would like to get started with sharing knowledge with high engagement?

Cathy: I’ll be a curmudgeon again and say that informal and social learning aren’t new. They’ve gotten technologically a lot easier, but at the same time the amount of noise has also increased. When I started, we supported users through a paper newsletter, and when people had a question, they called me on the phone. If enough people called with the same question, I wrote an article about it in the next newsletter. This was obviously slow and highly filtered, and I think blogs, forums, and similar super-fast approaches are for the most part a big improvement. At the same time, it’s becoming harder to find succinct, reliable information, and fads spread fast because few people have or take the time to read and analyze deeply.

So if an ID wants to share their knowledge through a blog or similar site, I’d suggest doing it in as concise and clear a manner as possible, using keywords that people are likely to be searching for, and using headings and other structural cues that make information easy to digest. To build a blog’s readership, it probably also helps to have a tight focus on one topic, a distinctive voice, and opinions.

While I realize that a lot of people love Twitter, I have to say that my analytics show that people who come to my sites from Twitter stay only briefly and then bounce along somewhere else. People who come from more in-depth discussion forums stick around for a lot longer and read more deeply in the site, so I’d suggest that new bloggers build their readership by participating in forums.

10. Learnnovators: It is greatly inspiring to hear you say “As IDs, we need to redefine our roles in organizations from converting information into a course to becoming performance consultants.” What would be your advice for IDs to step up to handle this challenging role?

Cathy: We need to start asking innocent-seeming but challenging questions. We need to do this from a consulting perspective, not saying, “I think you’re wrong and your people don’t need training at all” but instead saying, “Help me understand what’s going on, because I’m just a clueless outsider.” The needs analysis flowchart that I added to the action mapping process a year or two ago has turned out to be the most powerful part of the process. When you go through it with your stakeholders, it can be a non-threatening way to help them see for themselves what the best solutions are.

11. Learnnovators: What would be your predictions on the future of workplace learning based on the present trends and emerging technologies (such as Ubiquitous Learning, Social Learning, Gamification and Game-based Learning, Learning Analytics, Personalized and Adaptive Learning)? What would future (organizational) learning look like?

Cathy: It’s probably clear by now that I think the terms are new while the concepts have been around for a long time. So I wouldn’t call them emerging trends but more like good discussions of concepts that got lost at some point and are coming back around. For example, old-fashioned mentoring and apprenticeship were “personalized and adaptive learning.” We forgot about them in our zeal to standardize everything with technology. Now we’re remembering them again and using technology to (sort of) bring them back. I think they all have a role in workplace learning, and everything we can do to break the “course” mindset and move learning closer to the actual learner is a step in the right direction.

12. Learnnovators: What is your vision for the learning community? In other words, how do you plan to revolutionize e-learning further :)?

Cathy: First, I’m hoping that what I say goes beyond the elearning community. Action mapping and the ideas from everyone else mentioned here apply to all L&D activities, not just online courses. Second, I’m developing more resources to help people apply the concepts that I blather on about. In the first quarter of 2014, I ran several online courses in scenario design that were based on real-life projects that the participants brought; they had homework and lots of online discussion. I’ll be doing face-to-face workshops using the same material this fall in the US and Australia. Finally, I’ve been offline during a move around the world, but the first online course and other materials are slowly becoming self-paced resources. I’m enjoying the freedom to finally create hands-on “elearning” my way.

13. Learnnovators: To conclude, we would like to re-visit (once again) one of your famous tweets (to a client’s request) below:

  • Client: “Teach them how to complete our complex process.”
  • You: “Is there any way to make the process less complex?”

What inspires you to be a (e-learning) rebel? What drives you to ‘question’ and dedicate yourself for an inspiring cause (of saving the world from boring e-learning)?

Cathy: I think all people should have challenging, rewarding work in which their intelligence is respected. As learning & development practitioners, we have the power to help make that happen.Learnnovators: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights and experiences, Cathy. It was wonderful interacting with you. We wish you the very best!

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