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Podcast Summary: Forging Effective Learning with Bror Saxberg – Leading Learning Podcast Episode 343


If you’re aiming to boost your team’s expertise and motivation, you may be surprised to learn that neither work exactly how you may think. Experts aren’t always expert teachers and being motivated doesn’t always mean liking what you’re doing. In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, learning science expert Bror Saxberg shares tips for creating effective learning environments with host Celisa Steele. His insights into how to capture and transmit expert knowledge and design for motivation will interest L&D professionals looking to apply learning science to their training programs.


  • Design your training based on clear objectives and cognitive task analysis, rather than expert knowledge.
  • Improve and update your training on an ongoing basis using iteration.
  • Motivation is the “fuel for learning.”

Podcast Summary: Forging Effective Learning with Bror Saxberg - Leading Learning Podcast Episode 343


Design your training based on clear objectives and cognitive task analysis, rather than expert knowledge.

Subject experts may seem like the only resource you need if you’re looking to develop a course in a given field, but these individuals tend not to be good teachers. Expertise is stored in long-term memory: where you keep the knowledge that allows you to do certain tasks without thinking about them, such as driving home from work. Long-term memory lets you work quickly and multitask, but it is difficult to accurately articulate all the elements involved in what you are doing.

“You have to do real work to unpack how top performers decide and do what they do.” (Bror Saxberg)

Cognitive science has revealed that, when experts teach, they are able to convey less than 30% of their processes. Cognitive task analysis helps bridge the gap by interviewing and observing experts as they work; instructional designers using this analysis can capture 70% to 80% of what experts are doing. Instructional designers should define the learner outcomes they want before they start designing, rather than letting what an expert is able to verbalize determine the course of the training program. Choose where to allocate resources by asking former trainees and current employees what the hardest things were for them to learn. Invest in cognitive task analysis and simulations for the most important of those skills.

Improve and update your training on an ongoing basis using iteration.

A study by Kaplan found that fully half of the habits of top-performing paralegals are not things that they learned from standard texbooks. In some health care environments, employers have to retrain new graduates because the curriculum they followed at school was 10 years out of date. Instead of looking at textbooks, or “copying and pasting” from existing training programs, take a context-specific approach:

  • Look at the skills and tools that today’s top performers are using.
  • Look at learners’ specific learning goals, environment and needs. For example, are they trying to change jobs while working full time?
  • “Design inclusively”: Involve your learners in the design process.

“If I am going to build a bridge across the Potomac River, I do not copy and paste a bridge across the Thames.” (Bror Saxberg)

To keep training relevant, incorporate mechanisms for feedback that you can use to update your design. Define objective outcomes. What decisions and activities do you want your students to be capable of making or performing? How will you determine if learners achieve those objectives? Also make sure the learning environment you design lets you gather “multiple sources of evidence” about failure:

  • What part of the learning process is not going well, and why?
  • Is the software the problem, or is it the method? If you identify a problem with method, then you can invest in deeper analysis for that part of the learning.
  • Are the kinds of failures learners are experiencing reasoning or calculation or time-management issues?
  • Which types of learners is your environment benefiting? Which types are struggling?
  • How might context affect the effectiveness of the learning: peers, trainers, environment?

Motivation is the “fuel for learning.”

If you want learners to stick with your program, it’s important to consider motivation design.

“If the learner doesn’t have the motivation… then it’s sort of all for naught.” (Celisa Steele)

There are four ways learners can lose motivation:

  1. They don’t value what they’re doing – It may be hard for a dancer to care about algebra; but if he or she can see a link to dance, the dancer may see its value. So the instructor might, for example, ask how much money a dance foundation needs, and show how to model those finances over a period of years.
  2. They don’t believe they can do it – If someone feels like they can’t do something, they won’t be motivated to try. Show people what they have already accomplished and introduce them to people like themselves who have been able to succeed at mastering the learning objective.
  3. They blame their environment – They may blame their teacher or textbook, or feel they don’t have time to learn. Use problem-solving to orient people toward a solution.
  4. They’re in a negative emotional state – When a person is depressed or stressed, it is hard to put mental effort into learning.

Optimize motivation by matching the learning context to the learner. If learners start from a familiar context, they already have cognitive resources in their long-term memories that they can draw on with ease.

About the Podcast

Dr. Bror Saxberg is an MD, engineer and researcher, and founder of LearningForge, a learning engineering consultancy. Celisa Steele is co-founder and managing director of Tagoras, a learning and development consultancy.

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