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Are there instructional design lessons to be learned from Married At First Sight?

Instructional design inspiration can come from anywhere... even a sort of trashy Netflix show!

Perhaps I’ve been quarantined too long and have run out of “good” shows to watch, but when I recently stumbled across Married At First Sight (Season 9) on Netflix, I couldn’t resist.

As I began to watch it, I noticed something. I found myself rooting for certain people on the show. I wasn’t rooting against anyone on the show, but I definitely found myself rooting for a few of the people more than others. As I reflected on this more, I wondered if there was a lesson for us in the world of instructional design.

I realized that I felt like I was rooting more for certain people at very specific times during the show. It was when they’d flash a person’s name on the screen, and their profession.

One guy, Jamie, was a financial technician. I don’t know what that is, so when that would flash across the screen, it didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t really have a reason to care about him or the fortunes of his marriage (other than being a good person who generally roots for marriages to succeed).

Another person on the show, Iris, was a non-profit program coordinator. The person she was matched with, Keith, coached youth basketball.

I used to coordinate programs for a non-profit youth center in Washington, DC, and I spent time coaching a basketball team as part of this work. Immediately, I was rooting for both of these folks because I could relate to them. There was something important that I had in common with both of them.

This was a spontaneous reminder to me of the importance of anchor activities in training design.

Simply putting content forward in a training program and expecting learners to get excited about it, soak it up or even see the relevance of the content in their own work can often be a dangerous way to construct a training program.

“Yeah, Brian, I get it. That’s why I always start with an icebreaker before I get into my content. I like people to loosen up a bit and get to know each other.”

Icebreaking activities can be a very important piece to a learning experience, especially when there’s some sort of connection to the content. An anchor activity, however, is different from an icebreaking activity. Yes, it is an activity designed to ease people into the learning, but it’s more than that. It’s an activity that has intention in the way it’s designed so that learners can somehow see themselves in the content that’s going to be explored. Anchor activities are designed to get your learners to feel a connection to the content, almost rooting for your content to succeed in their lives.

Anchor activities are part of a 4-step design model that goes:

  1. Anchor. An activity designed to help connect learners to your content.
  2. Content. The way in which you intend to present your information.
  3. Application. An opportunity for learners to discuss, explore or try new knowledge, skills or abilities in a safe environment.
  4. Future Use. Activities or resources that prepare learners for putting your content into action in the real world.

While the sky is the limit when it comes to designing anchor activities (some anchor activities I’ve designed can be much more involved and take an hour or longer), some quick anchor activities could include:

  1. Taking a poll of how the audience feels about a certain topics or what their knowledge level is before you begin.
  2. Asking participants to turn to someone next to them (or if we’re talking virtual training, type something into the chat box) to share their best or worst experience with the topic at hand (ie: What’s your best customer service experience ever? What’s been your worst experience receiving feedback?)
  3. Share a famous quote or proverb and ask participants how it could connect to the topic at hand. A variation of this is to share five quotes or proverbs and ask participants to choose the one that most resonates with them when they think of today’s topic.
  4. Ask participants to define today’s topic using exactly six words. This can easily be done for in-person groups by asking participants to use flipchart or sticky notes. With virtual groups, the chat feature can be leveraged for this.
  5. Have participants perform a brief self-assessment using a checklist you’ve created that can help them to identify how strong they currently are in the skills you’re about to teach.

Regardless of what anchor activity you come up with, using an anchor to kick off a new topic is an important way to make sure your participants are rooting for your content to succeed.


Want to experiment with a new tool that quickly gives you all the anchor, content, application and future use activities you’ll need for your next training program? Sign up for a Soapbox demo and see how it can save you time developing your next training session!

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