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A 4-Step Training Design Model

Today’s podcast takes a closer look at a 4-step training design model.

This is different than an instructional design model, which is typically more holistic and looks at everything in the process from the need of the training through assessment, piloting, revisions and implementation.

The model we’ll explore with today’s podcast assumes there is a valid need for training, and can be used when you’re designing a training session (whether in-person, virtual or elearning) intended to help develop new knowledge, skills and abilities.

With this podcast, you’ll explore the following four steps: anchor, content, application and future use.

Come back next week and I’ll spend some time going into more detail about specific training activities that can be used in each step.


Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. And also I’m the Co-founder of Endurance Learning and the author of a book called What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training

Today’s podcast is going to include a short introduction to a 4-step design model you might want to use when you’re developing training. It can be used for in-person training, virtual training, eLearning – we’ll get more into that. But first I want to mention that today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox which is an online tool that you can use for 5 to 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work that is necessary when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. You basically go in, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what are your learning objectives, and then Soapbox instantly generates a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning outcomes. So if you’re using Soapbox, you don’t have to worry about coming up with activities for each of the design steps I’m about to talk about today because it creates those for you too. If you want more information, go to

4-Step Model for Training Design


Now today, like I mentioned, we’re going to be talking about a 4-step design model to help you put together a training program that’s going to be engaging and effective. But before we get to that, let’s talk about what this model is. And basically, the four steps of this model are anchor and then content and then application and future use. 

This was a model that I was introduced to back in 2007, so no, it’s not something I’m just making up off the cuff. And I’ve found that as I’ve looked at it, it’s really based on two pillars of adult learning. And the first is Malcolm Knowles’ Theory of Adult Learning, which says that learning – it needs to be relevant and help the learners solve a problem. And you’ll see that when I talk more about each step. With this model, you make an attempt to help the learners understand your concept and see how it might be relevant to them before you begin really going in-depth into the topic. That’s the anchor step that I’m going to talk about.

The other pillar on which this model is based is Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. And that is certainly a much more complete, it’s a much more detailed model to take a look at. And if you’re into it, I encourage you to do that. When you take a look at this 4-step model that I’m going to talk about today, it really combines some of those events that Gagne talks about. So if you’re really into, or if you’ve studied things like a Masters in Education or Instructional Design, you may have been introduced to Gagne. And his nine events really kind of revolve around a variety of things that should happen in the training environment. 

And when I talk about this 4-step model that I often use, the anchor step will incorporate things that Gagne called “Gain the attention of the learner” and “Stimulate recall of prior learning.” The content step will include things that Gagne talked about when he talks about “Present the stimulus” or “Provide learning guidance.” Basically, what are you even talking about? The application step that I’ll be talking about offers ways to include what Gagne called “Elicit performance” or “Provide feedback” and “Assess performance.” And the future use step of this 4-step design model aligns with the final event of Gagne’s Nine Events, which is “Enhance retention and transfer to other contexts.” 

Why Should You Use This 4-Step Model for Training Design?

The 4-step training design model is simple to remember.

So if you want to get really nerdy and academic, definitely check out some of these other theories that are out there. I like this 4-step design model because it is, to me, more accessible. It’s simple to remember. And especially if you are going to use it with other non-training folks who don’t really care about theory, they just want to put together their slides, and you need a simple model to help give them structure. And this 4-step design model is a lot more digestible. 

So let’s review what these four steps are. I’ve mentioned them before in passing several times already. The steps are anchor, content, application, and future use. 

Step 1: Anchor

So let’s start with the anchor step. In this step, we’re basically dipping our toes into the waters of our content without overwhelming the learners with a fire hose of information. Ideally, we’ll be able to connect some sort of new topic to something the learners would be familiar with or at least something they can relate to. 

So for example, if we’re going to design a training session on four steps to effective customer service, as an example. Maybe an anchor activity would be something as simple as to ask the participants about their best ever shopping experience. And then you can debrief that conversation by connecting that shopping experience to the steps for effective customer service that you’re about to train people on. So that’s the anchor step. Really: how do we get people to relate to our topic without overwhelming them? 

Step 2: Content

Step two is the content step. This is generally straightforward. It’s a step in which you present your information. Traditionally, this step is done with lecture and bullets on PowerPoint slides. Alternatives to lecture might be bringing in a guest speaker, who then might lecture and show PowerPoint slides. Or maybe having people read an article. Or maybe even, if you want to get a little creative, get people up and moving, posting some information around your training room and doing a gallery walk for people to pick up key pieces of information. 

So that’s the second step. It’s the content step. This is the step that I think most people kind of get when they are about to put together a presentation. The only problem is that oftentimes in order for it to be digestible, it needs to be surrounded with these other steps. 

Step 3: Application

If you're going to make a mistake, when you're trying to use a new skill or a concept, the training room seems to be a really good place to make that mistake, and then maybe get some feedback.

The third step is application. So application, with this step we want to check to see if our learners are getting it before we move on to something else. And this is an opportunity for practice in an environment without any real-world consequences. So if you’re going to make a mistake, when you’re trying to use a new skill or a concept, the training room seems to be a really good place to make that mistake, and then maybe get some feedback. 

Sometimes application activities might be things like role play or simulations. Sometimes it’s as simple as a short, small group discussion. If you’re talking about eLearning, this is definitely where simulations or branching scenarios come into play. 

Step 4: Future Use

And then the final step is future use. This is the part of your training plan where you look for ways to help your learners understand how and when they can use your information outside of the training room. Often this will include things like job aids or takeaways. Sometimes it’s simply a conversation or maybe even an action plan. 

Can You Skip a Step in the 4-Step Model for Training Design?

So I’ve just talked about four steps. What happens if we skip a step? What happens if we’re pressed for time? Or we’re working on a project and someone just doesn’t see the value in all of these steps in the activities? Is it okay just to skip a step? 

I would turn that question back to you. What do you think? And just as a side, me turning that question back to you and asking you what you all think is one of my classic facilitation moves. It’s called the Boomerang Technique, but I’m digressing right now. It is kind of a good technique that helps to keep people engaged and allow other people to answer questions maybe that somebody in your audience had asked you. Anyway, I’m digressing. 

The Number One issue that Subject Matter Experts do when they are training.

Think about it. If you’re going to skip a step, what step would you want to skip? We don’t have time for an anchor, let’s just get to the content. Well, this is actually what a lot of people do. In fact, this is the number one issue that I see subject matter experts do when they’re training. They think their content is really important, but does the audience understand why their content is important? That right there is the value of the anchor step. 

Let’s skip the content! Well, I don’t think anybody’s ever said that. If anything, people are like, “Let’s just skip to the content.” So I’m not going to spend any time about skipping this content step – I don’t think that people would really want to do that. How about application? If you remove the application, well, how do you know if your learners are getting it? Are you just that dazzling of a speaker? Are you just that important of a speaker that you’re sure that they get it and you don’t need them to apply things? Well, even if you are, what you’ve ended up with if you skip over the application step is basically a Ted Talk. It’s not an educational or skill-building session – you’re just sharing information with people. 

And then as for leaving out the future use, there are so many figures out there about how much money is wasted on training every year, and one big driver behind that is that people actually don’t apply what they’ve learned when they’re on the job. Future use is a step that really aims to help people see how they can use what they’ve learned when they’re actually on the job. 

Four Steps to Effective Learning Design: The Summary

So in sum, this 4-step design model, it’s really built upon a foundation of years and years of theory about how people learn best. The four steps: they’re anchor, content, application, future use, and they’re all pretty important steps. So be careful if you feel like you need to cut something out. 

Stay tuned because next week’s podcast will go deeper into activities you might actually want to use for each of these steps.  Thank you for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. If you need help on your own training programs, whether you’re talking instructor-led training, eLearning, drop me a line at, and let’s talk about it. Let’s see what we can do. If you know somebody who might find today’s topic on these four design steps to be important, go ahead and pass this link along to the podcast and maybe they’ll thank you for it. If you want to make sure that you’re notified of a new podcast when it’s hot off the press, please subscribe at Apple, Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, I would love it if you would give this a like, or give a review of the podcast. It’ll only take you a minute, but it would mean a lot to me. 

On a non-training-related note, mark your calendars for this Saturday, February 5th, which is International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. So you are welcome if you need an excuse to eat breakfast on this coming Saturday. Until next time, happy training everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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