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In the past, I’ve shared my thoughts about various industry-recognized instructional design and development models, like ADDIE or SAM. However, the problem with most of these models is that there’s nothing about that that actually helps you design or develop eLearning that gets results. In fact, I consider many of these models to be more akin to project management models, rather than instructional design models. However, this is not the case for action mapping. 

Action Mapping is the process of analyzing a performance issue, identifying potential training and non-training solutions, and designing performance-based activities to challenge your learners to put skills into practice.

If you’re not familiar, action mapping is a process that Cathy Moore created as a way to analyze a performance issue, identify potential training and non-training solutions, and design performance-based activities to challenge your learners to put skills into practice. And of course, if you haven’t already checked out Cathy’s book, Map It, it’s a fantastic book that provides an in-depth process for creating an action map.

So, before I get into how to create an action map, why would you want to make one in the first place, and how can you use action mapping for eLearning?

Well, as Cathy explains it: most corporate training (especially eLearning) is an information dump. And she’s absolutely right! The creation of most training starts by identifying what learners need to know, which is what makes action mapping such a fantastic process. Rather than focusing on what learners need to know, it shifts the focus towards what learners need to do in order to achieve a desired business goal. And of course, it then helps you identify possible training activities you can create to teach those behaviors. 

And I can say from experience, taking the time to create an action map not only helps you design better eLearning, but it’s also something that can help you in the early stages of scoping your projects

So, here are the four steps for how to create an action map.

Step #1: Define the Business Goal(s)

The first step for creating an action map is to define the business goal(s).

The first step for creating an action map is to define the business goal(s). Taking the time to collaborate with your stakeholders and subject matter experts, usually during the kickoff meeting, can help you understand why they want training in the first place and what performance gaps they’re hoping to resolve. One way to do this is by conducting a needs analysis to identify what learners are doing, what you want them doing, and why they aren’t doing it.

For example, if you’re creating training for call center employees, a good business goal might be to increase product sales by 10% by the end of the year. When defining the business goal, you want to avoid creating a goal focused on what learners need to know—for example, understanding the features of a product. 

Once you’ve defined the business goal, you can place that in the middle of your action map.

Step #2: Identify the Actions

The second step for creating an action map is to define the tasks needed to accomplish the business goal(s).

The second step for creating an action map is to identify the specific actions learners need to take or perform to achieve the business goal you defined in the first step. Remember, the purpose of creating an action map is to focus not on what learners need to know, but what they need to do. And, as I’ve said before: knowledge and behavior aren’t mutually exclusive—just because people know more, doesn’t mean they’re going to do more!

So, if we go back to our call center example, what are some actions learners might need to take to achieve the business goal of increasing product sales? Well, it might be asking open-ended probing questions to uncover a customer’s needs, or qualifying a customer for the appropriate product, or highlighting the benefits that’ll best help fulfill the customer’s needs.

Once you’ve identified all of these actions, usually in collaboration with your subject matter experts or by conducting a task analysis, then you can list all of these on your action map, around your business goal.

Step #3: Design Practice Activities

The third step for creating an action map is to design practice activities to accomplish the tasks.

The third step for creating an action map is to design practice activities that will help learners practice the specific actions you identified in the second step. This step is where you need to start thinking about how you’re actually going to create training that helps learners do what you want them to do.

For example, if you were creating an in-person workshop, that might be a series of role-playing scenarios or something similar. Or, if you’re creating an eLearning course, then you need to start thinking about how you’ll bring these actions to life in a digital format. So, for example, rather than creating a bunch of click-to-reveal interactions, knowledge checks, or quiz questions that only serve to promote knowledge retention, what you want to focus on is creating performance-based interactions.

For example, that might mean presenting the learner with a branching scenario, where the learner needs to identify questions to ask to uncover the customer’s needs, or maybe they need to select the appropriate responses to help overcome common objections a customer may present. In either case, these types of interactions encourage learners to use their critical thinking skills and see the outcomes of the actions.

Step #4: Identify the Minimally Necessary Information

The fourth and final step for creating an action map is to identify the minimally necessary information.

The fourth and final step for creating an action map is to identify the minimally necessary information. When identifying what knowledge learners need, you want to restrict it to the minimal amount of information the learner needs to perform the required tasks, and nothing more! This means you want to avoid fun facts or nice-to-know information that doesn’t directly correlate to the behaviors being taught.

Once you’ve identified the essential information, you can put that on your action map. Remember, everything is about supporting the business goal and the tasks or behaviors needed to achieve that goal. So, if your stakeholders or SMEs try to get you to include information that doesn’t directly support an activity or behavior, it doesn’t get included in your action map.

The Bottom Line

So, that’s an overview of how to create an action map. Taking the time to create an action map, in partnership with your stakeholders and subject matter experts, let’s move forward in the creation of your training with a clear understanding of the goal you’re trying to achieve, what actions need to be taken to achieve that goal, and what’s the best way to train learners on those actions.

What other tips do you have for creating an action map? Share them by commenting below!

Tim Slade

Tim Slade

Hi, I’m Tim Slade, and I’m a speaker, author, and founder of The eLearning Designer's Academy. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, I have been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for my creative and innovative design aesthetics. I’m also a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, a LinkedIn Learning instructor, and author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.

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