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Four Steps to More Engaging Training Design

Just because you know something about a topic and you know how to talk, doesn't mean you know how to train people. Here is a 4-step design to help make your training more engaging.
walking up steps

A little while back, I was showing a tech industry executive – someone who knows both his way around the C-suite and who knows his way around training design – a lesson plan that was generated by our training design tool, Soapbox.

“Hmmmm. When you first told me about this, I thought I’d see some sort of instructional design model integrated into the way you designed this.”

I pointed out that the lesson plan actually did follow the formula of a 4-step instructional design model. He looked at the lesson plan again and smiled. “Ah, I see it now. Yes, this is good.”

Being intentional about the design of your next training program by using a model rooted in adult learning theory can make the difference between a meandering, ineffective session and an engaging session that leads to change. Following is the model we use, based upon work from Malcolm Knowles and Robert Gagne:


This is the step that I’ve most often seen skipped, which leads some participants’ attention to drift. An anchor activity is designed to connect your content to the learners’ previous experiences. When this step is skipped and a presenter launches directly into their content, it’s more difficult for the participants to relate.

Anchor activities can be quick, 3-minute activities or they can take the first hour or so of a full-day training program. Some examples of anchor activities can include:

  • Beginning a session with a poll question.
  • Asking participants to think of their best (or worst) experience with your content.
  • Leading participants through a short, guided imagery exercise.
  • Showing a short movie clip.
  • Conducting a brief demonstration of your content in action.
  • Creating a board game to review what participants already know about the content.


This is the part of your training where the teaching happens. Traditionally this is done through lecture, but following are a number of different ways to present your information beyond a traditional lecture approach:

  • Presenting a Top 5 list of reasons your content is important.
  • Asking participants to explore pieces of your content by taking a “gallery walk” around the room.
  • Sharing a case study and debriefing the key learning points.


Giving participants an opportunity to use your content in a safe space (the training room) after they’ve been exposed to new concepts can help with learner retention. It also helps you to see if your learners are actually “getting it”.

Application activities can include things such as:

  • Having learners role-play and practice saying the words they’d actually say in a real situation.
  • Completing forms – Professional Development Plans, Project Management tools, etc – on which you have trained them.
  • Breaking participants up into small group discussion to reflect on the content and identify ways in which they could see themselves using the content.

Future Use

Training sessions can be fun and engaging, but if participants don’t have an opportunity to see and plan for how they will use their new knowledge, skills or abilities outside of the training room, then it was probably a waste of time. Future use activities can include:

  • Providing job aids, based upon your content, that participants will be able to use in the flow of their day-to-day job responsibilities.
  • Completing an action plan that can be given to learners’ supervisors for support and accountability once they’ve left the training room.
  • Administering a self-evaluation that allows participants to assess their strengths and weaknesses after they’ve been exposed to and have a more complete understanding of your content.

Could you use some help putting together your next training program? Drop us a line and let’s work together to put these four design steps into action!

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