WHAT’S YOUR FORMULA? by Brian Washburn (Paraguay)

 

Engaging, effective training programs are a mixture of science and art, requiring the right balance of adult learning theory, available technology, intuitive tools, proven practices, creativity, and risk. How does a trainer find the right combination and proportion of these elements? How does a trainer know what’s possible?

To answer these questions, Brian Washburn (Paraguay 1998-2000) offers a simple yet elegant periodic table of learning elements modeled on the original periodic table of chemical properties in What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training . Washburn’s elements — which are organized into solids, liquids, gases, radioactive, and interactive categories similar to their chemical cousins — are metaphors for the tools and strategies of the field of learning design; when they’re combined, and under certain conditions, they have the potential to create amazing learning experiences for participants. They are that impactful.

From critical gas-like elements like the air we breathe, present in every training room (think instructional design or visual design), to radioactive elements, powerful and dangerous yet commonly used (think PowerPoint), Washburn guides you through the pitfalls and choices you confront in creating engaging learning experiences. A well-designed training program can be world-changing, he argues, and if you believe in your craft as a learning professional, you can do this too. Whether you’re an experienced learning designer or new to the field, this book inspires with new ideas and ways to organize the design of your learning programs. With stories from Washburn’s professional experience, the book includes a hands-on glossary of definitions and descriptions for more than 50 of his elements.

Brian Washburn is the co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning, a boutique instructional design company specializing in generating creative and unique instructor-led or e-learning programs for a client base that ranges from small nonprofit organizations to major Fortune 500 companies. He has been dabbling in the world of instructional design and corporate training for more than 20 years. It all began as a Peace Corps Volunteer where he discovered the joys of standing in front of a group of participants, finding ways to engage them, and using flipcharts to generate dynamic visual aids.

Since then, Brian has worked mostly in the nonprofit sector, leading training teams that have been charged with world-changing missions that range from ensuring every foster child has a safe and permanent home to eliminating corneal blindness around the globe. Brian has developed and facilitated training programs in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Years ago he was named a “Top Young Trainer” by Training Magazine, and more recently has served as president of the ATD (Association for Talent Development) Puget Sound Chapter.

Brian can be found through his weekly blog Train Like A Champion, on Twitter (@flipchartguy), and is always happy to connect on LinkedIn. He lives in Seattle, Washington, with his two children and four fish.

What’s Your Formula?: Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training
by Brian Washburn (Paraguay 1998-2000)
Publisher: Association for Talent Development
248 pages
June 2021
$29.99 (Kindle); $29.99 (paperback)

 

 

Q&A With Brian Washburn

By ATD Staff

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Engaging, effective training programs are a mixture of science and art, requiring the right balance of adult learning theory, available technology, intuitive tools, proven practices, creativity, and risk. How does a trainer find the right combination and proportion of these elements? How does a trainer know what’s possible?

To answer these questions, Brian Washburn offers a simple yet elegant periodic table of learning elements modeled on the original periodic table of chemical properties in the new book, What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training.

 

This book revolves around the metaphor of a periodic table for “elements of amazing learning experiences.” Why did you choose a periodic table?

When you think of the original periodic table that many of us studied in school, it broke down the chemical properties of everything on the planet into tiny individual elements. When we think of the complex task of helping people learn new knowledge, skills, or abilities, it can sometimes be overwhelming. It’s tempting to just do what we’ve always done. When we’re able to break the learning experience down into individual elements, however, we may be able to unlock ideas we’d never thought about. This book is designed to help all learning professionals—new or experienced—think of the different tools, strategies, and practices at their disposal then begin to dream about new ways to organize a learning experience. This table is a way to help introduce (or remind) learning professionals to various options available to them so they can get out of the rut of doing things the way they’ve always done and think about what’s truly possible.

Is there a rhyme or reason to the way the elements appear on this periodic table or were you simply looking to create a visual representation of 51 potential tools, strategies, theories, and practices in a fun and creative way?

The elements in this table have been classified into five distinct categories with intention:

    • Gas-like elements. These are theories, models, or concepts that you may not be able to see, but just like true gases like oxygen, if these elements were to suddenly be sucked out of the room, you’d certainly notice that they weren’t there. This set of eight elements includes Adult Learning, Visual Design, Gamification and Change Management.
    • Liquid elements. These are practices that can be poured into a situation and can take the shape of the vessel in which they’re “poured” (that vessel is generally a work team or an entire organization). There are 10 elements in this category, such as Supervisor Support, Spaced Learning and Goal Setting. The concepts behind these practices are firm, but the way in which various organizations implement these practices may be different based upon circumstances and culture.
    • Solid elements. This set of 15 elements is made up of tools — either physical or digital—that can help training designers meet their goals.
    • Radioactive elements. In this section, readers will find 11 elements that can be incredibly powerful but when misused can also blow up in their faces and taint the reputation of learning initiatives. This group of elements includes common practices such as Lecture, Icebreakers, and Games as well as tools such as PowerPoint and Smile Sheets.
    • Interactive elements. This is a cluster of seven elements that rely on social media platforms or digital communication to engage participants in the learning process.

This list of 51 elements was not intended to be all-encompassing. In fact, these elements simply scratch the surface when it comes to theories, practices, tools, and concepts in the learning field.

If a trainer were to buy this book today, what could they do new, differently, or better tomorrow?

While this book touches on theory and research, it’s not an academic book in that sense. Some readers may choose to look in the table of contents or the index and quickly find some help or new ideas to bring into a project they’re working on. Others may look at the periodic table and think, “Huh, I wouldn’t have thought to bring Audience Response (polling) into that activity” or “I never thought about combining principles of Adult Learning with how my handouts are designed.” After the description of each element, readers will find a list of other elements that can be bonded to their original elements to create a more powerful learning experience. My biggest hope is that readers will begin to think about how to combine some of these elements together to create more powerful and impactful learning experiences.

Can these elements be used by anyone who is putting together a learning program?

The way in which these elements are used effectively may depend on whether you’re the one designing a learning program or delivering the learning program. While some people do both, there are many instances in which a learning program is designed by one person and delivered by another. The facilitator of a learning experience is what I call “the X Factor” in training success. Readers will find a two-by-two matrix in this book to identify where they fall, and they can also use this matrix to evaluate the skill level and experience of anyone who may be delivering their training program. If a training program is being delivered by someone with little knowledge or skill in incorporating principles of adult learning into their delivery, you may need to approach the design of the training program differently than if it’s being designed to be delivered by someone skilled in the art of facilitation but who has little experience or expertise in the subject matter.

The elements on this periodic table include things such as Flipchart, Audience Response tools, Virtual Meeting platforms, Adult Learning theory, E-Learning, and Handouts. Is this book focused solely on formal learning events such as in-person training or self-paced e-learning programs?

While several elements lend themselves well to formal learning events, the periodic table itself goes well beyond what has traditionally been considered formal learning opportunities. There will always be a place for formal learning opportunities, but by harnessing and combining elements such as Google, YouTube, Collaborative File Sharing (intranets, Sharepoint sites, and so forth), Supervisor Support, Coaching, and Mentoring, this book paints a much more holistic view of the range of elements that can be blended for impactful formal or informal learning experiences.

About the Author

Brian Washburn is the co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning, a boutique instructional design firm specializing in creative and unique instructor-led or e-learning programs for clients ranging from nonprofit organizations to major Fortune 500 companies. Brian has led training teams that have been charged with world-changing missions ranging from ensuring every foster child has a safe and permanent home to eliminating corneal blindness around the globe.

Immersed in learning and development, teaching, and corporate training for more than 20 years, his love for instructional design began as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, where he discovered the joys of finding ways to engage participants and using flipcharts to generate dynamic visual aids. He was named a Top Young Trainer by Training magazine, has served as the president of the ATD Puget Sound chapter, and can be found through his Train Like a Champion blog. He lives in Seattle, Washington, with his two children and four fish.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit td.org/books.

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