Action Mapping

Using Action Mapping to Design eLearning Activities

One of the best models to assist in the design of an online course is Cathy Moore’s ‘Action Mapping’. This model focusses on achieving organisational goals by designing activities that change what people do, rather than what they know. The activities that learners engage with are rich, promote active engagement and are accompanied by only the necessary, relevant materials.

There are four key stages of the Action Mapping model:

  1. Identify the organisational goal
  2. Identify what people need to do to reach the goal
  3. Design practice activities
  4. Identify what people really need to know


Identifying the organisation goal

The first step of action mapping is to identify the problem the organisation is experiencing and write a meaningful goal to address it.

The model Cathy Moore provides for setting goals is:

(A measure already being used in the organisation) will increase/decrease (number/percentage) by (date) as (people in a specific group) do (something).

There are two quick steps to developing goals:

  1. Identify the measures the organisation is already using and then decide how much it needs to be improved by in-order to solve the problem and by when. For example, workplace accidents will decrease by 10% in year one, insurance sales will increase by 2% within 6 months or customer complaints will reduce by 5% by Q4.
  2. Identify what people will do differently. This can help in identifying the group of people in which the training will impact. For example, workplace accidents will decrease by 10% in year one as all staff adhere to the basic principles of health and safety.

Creating a measurable goal will make it easier to design appropriate learning activities, evaluate success and show the value of the training. When the course is centred around a problem, the focus shifts from knowledge acquisition to practising skills. Do you want staff to recite back some policy or be able to apply that policy when making decisions in their work life?

Identify what people need to do to reach the goal

Once the goal has been identified, the next step is to identify what people need to do to reach the goal. This means listing specific behaviour and actions that people need to take to achieve the goal. Sometimes this might involve looking at what people are not doing, rather than what they should be doing, and identifying if the reasons for this are due to a lack of knowledge, motivation, environment or skills.

  • Knowledge: If the issue is with knowledge and it needs to be stored in their memory then a course may be the solution. If staff don’t need to remember the content, then a job aid, such as a how-to video, animation or infographic might suffice. For example, if a small number of staff occasionally need to be able to operate a reasonably straight-forward piece of machinery, a job aid containing the operating procedures, available when they need to operate the machine, might be more suitable than requiring all staff attend a training course.
  • Motivation: If staff are struggling with low motivation, training might not always be the answer. Depending on the reason for low motivation, there may be other means of addressing this.
  • Environment: If the issue is being caused by the environment, then there would be other solutions to look at first. For example, if workplace accidents were occurring because of inadequate lighting or uneven flooring, these issues should be addressed before any training solution is considered.
  • Skills: If the issue is a lack of skill, this may mean the staff member struggles to apply their knowledge. A series of learning activities where the staff member gets to practice would be of benefit in this case. For example, if a staff member knows the theory of safety lifting heavy objects but needs practice, then a training intervention where they get to practice and receive feedback would be useful.

At this stage, it’s important to confirm that training will actually solve the problem.

Design practice activities

If a training intervention is considered to be the best solution to helping achieve the organisational goal, then practice activities should be designed. These should relate to the real activities and tasks that employees would perform in the workplace and these should mirror the situation in real life as closely as possible. This will help people practice making the decisions they would normally make on the job. There are two important features of practice activities:

  1. A character (often the learner) faces a realistic and specific challenge
  2. The feedback they receive shows the consequences of their decision

Here’s an example for a course that aims to reduce workplace accidents by 10%.

You need to move a box which may be too heavy to lift on your own and your colleagues are not around to help. What do you do?

  1. Lift it to see if it’s actually too heavy.
  2. Wait until someone comes back to help you.
  3. Remove the heaviest item out of the box and then move each item separately.

Consider you choose option one which is incorrect. Rather than simply being told you are incorrect, a more realistic feedback would be: As you lift up the box, you realise it is too heavy but as you go to place it down again, you feel a sharp pain in your lower back. By allowing learners to experience the natural consequences of their decision and draw their own conclusions, the scenarios become more reflective of their real lives.

Identify what people really need to know

It is important to identify what your learners need to know in order to complete each activity. This could be made available in the form of a “need help?” button which has links to additional resources, such as the company procedures or job aids which staff are not required to have memorised. Ensuring that these resources are an add-on, rather than a compulsory part of the course will mean those who do not need them do not need to access them.

Action Mapping focusses on changing what people do, rather than what people know. It involves identifying the organisational goal and what people need to do to achieve the goal, designing practice activities and including only what is really necessary to avoid overwhelming the learners. Action mapping is a useful tool for designing learning activities that are practical, relevant and engaging.