Tip #719: When Organizing Principles Confuse

“Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.” Henry Miller

I had a true AHA! moment last week that an organizing principle can sometimes confuse learners. For years, when I have taught trainers how to create specific, observable and measurable learning objectives, I’ve shown them the final product first. As a matter of fact, I’ve shown them several final products. And invariably, the participants’ design process was less than stellar.

Let me provide some context.

I teach a three stage learning objective design process. First, based on a needs assessment and the resulting learning goals, we identify the key content for a lesson plan using a template I provide. Second, we determine the desired level of learning for each key content. Third, we add an active, learning-level appropriate verb to complete each learning objective.

For years, I’ve operated with the philosophy that it helps to see the end product. For this reason, I’ve shown several written examples of completed learning objectives (with each stage identified). I’ve also worked with the participants to develop the learning objectives for two different training topics.

Then I’ve had the participants work in their table groups to complete stage one, then stage two, and finally stage three on a flip chart.

This process has typically taken half a day from start to finish.

The last time I taught this way, it resulted in general confusion and I had to reteach it the next day. Something had to change.

So this time, I decided to teach one stage at a time. Once all three stages were completed and we had learning objectives for the two all-class examples and for the table group examples- then I showed the participants additional specific, observable and measurable learning objectives for other more complex topics.

It was like magic. Twenty-nine participants in 6 table groups completed all three stages to generate learning objectives in half the time it usually required.

All this time I’ve advocated having an organizing principle- showing participants what the end result should be before they begin. Here is an instance where that approach backfired.

Brain research has shown that, when teaching “nonsense,” something with which the participants have no familiarity, it is best to teach 1 to 3 topics at a time. In this case, it ended up better to teach only 1 topic (or stage) at a time. Once that stage was mastered, the participants were ready for the next topic (or stage). That teaching approach had to be reiterated one more time for the last topic (or stage).

It just goes to show that the brain knows what it needs, and as trainers, we need to pay attention and respect those needs. I certainly learned my lesson!

May your learning be sweet.



Related Posts


Two new virtual business workshops for Spring 2023

Presentation Skills: Learn to be informative and persuasive.
8:30-4:00 pm,  4/26/2023

Register here

Six Steps to Yes: Acquire instant influence in a virtual world.
8:30 – 12:30pm, 3/28/2023

Register here


It doesn’t have to be difficult to Deal with Difficult People.

In this course you will define the behavioral characteristics and underlying needs of difficult people, assess situations in which you effectively handled a difficult person, review five steps for handling difficult people Laurel & Associates now offers courses through Teachable. Learn at your own pace.

Share This Post