When Should You Use Action Mapping?

Action Mapping is a highly practical tool that helps the learning designer focus on identifying and analysing the business problem and ensuring the training design is intensely focused on delivering only the information that is needed and removing extraneous data. Instructional Designers should use this amazing tool BEFORE they start designing the learning experience. Action Mapping helps the business to clearly articulate for itself what it actually wants.

As eLearning developers and instructional designers, we get called into a client meeting where the clients want ‘training to happen’. Often, the exact nature of the problem the client is trying to solve through training is not well understood. For example, the client says people just aren’t storing their data correctly, so we need to train them ‘properly’ so they will store it correctly. Further investigation reveals several reasons staff are not storing data correctly, including the primary reason being that there is absolutely no consequence for the incorrect behaviour. No amount of training, no matter how clever or engaging, will fix a business system design issue (lack of accountability or enforcement of company policy).

The main aim of action mapping is to create a plan of action that is going to help a company or business understand fully, and be able to solve, the problem.

Who Should Use Action Mapping?

Action mapping is an instructional design model with a focus on doing. The model allows people to learn through practice. Instructional Designers have found Action Mapping to be an incredibly powerful tool; however, it is designed to be useful for anyone involved in the design and construction of training. This includes teachers (K-12), university lecturers, learning and development professionals, and professional eLearning companies.

What are some examples of when you would start the process?

  • You have been asked to develop a training for a business’s employees intended to improve work performance.
  • You are a digital learning designer creating a course that revolves around practice activities.
  • You are an instruction designer who needs to create an activity that will increase the absorption and retention of knowledge.

In a nutshell, action mapping is great for anyone who has a problem and wants a structured approach to solving the problem. 

Still not quite sure if action mapping is right for you? Complete this quick test to determine whether this model will work for your specific case.

Does Optivly use Action Mapping?

In short…… heck yes! We love Action Mapping. One of the key things we like about Action Mapping is the simple yet powerfully profound set of questions we can use to help the client really articulate the problem for themselves. Cathy Moore is an absolute genius, and we thank [insert your preferred deity here] that she has been willing to share her insights with the rest of us mere mortals.

More often than not, our clients have an idea of the problem that they are trying to solve through training but are not really able to describe the problem completely. Often, the training that has been designed or is wanted is aimed at a particular problem but does not actually address the underlying cause or does not understand what will actually motivate the learner actually to commit to undertaking the learning. By following a simple, easy to understand, structured approach, we are able to determine what the problem is, understand why people are not doing what we need them to do, what we actually want them to be able to do, and what we need to give them prior to, during and after the training takes place.

What Is Mapping in Instructional Design? 

When creating instructional materials, many experts focus on the things that the learners need to know. As a result, the learners get filled up with, at times, useless information that they can’t use to achieve any business goals.

Action mapping focuses on performance and the things that the learners ‘need to do’. When designing the materials, you will focus on the company’s main problem and how it can be solved. 

That doesn’t mean that the learners are not going to need any additional information. The methodology is also about identifying the minimally necessary information to achieve the goals.

In the end, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the goal that the business is trying to achieve?
  2. What actions need to be taken?
  3. What is the best way to train the learners on these actions?

How Do You Create an Action Map?

Here is your step-by-step plan:

  1. Schedule a kickoff meeting with the client and all the necessary stakeholders to identify the problem that needs to be solved (or the main goal).
  2. Identify what needs to be done to achieve the goal and why it is not being done now.
  3. Create the action map – place the business goal in the center and then add necessary actions to achieve it (brainstorm with the subject matter expert and the client). You can create the actual map here.
  4. Prioritize the actions. Which ones contribute most to the goal? Which actions are often performed incorrectly?
  5. Why has the problem emerged in the first place? Get to the root cause of the ‘why?’.
  6. Create a prototype. Show it to the people, collect the feedback, and make sure that it works.
  7. Practice activities (work together with the SME).
  8. Finish the project plan and get approval

Who is Cathy Moore?

Action mapping was a method developed by Cathy Moore back in 2008. This framework was created to help instructional designers create effective business training.

Cathy is an internationally recognized training designer. The frameworks that she has created were used by Pfizer, Microsoft, Barclay’s, and many others.

Cathy’s book ‘Map It’ walks you through the process of creating an action map. Ultimately, it will help you turn the training requests into projects that can make a real difference. 

According to Cathy Moore herself, action mapping is a streamlined process that can be used to design training in the business world. The main goals of the process include:

  • Committing to improving the performance of businesses measurably
  • Identifying the best possible solution to the problem
  • Creating realistic practice activities instead of information dumps

Final Thoughts

We use Action Mapping all the time. It’s very easy to get started, and a wealth of tools are available to help you try it out. As a collaborative activity, it will help bring you closer to your client or your internal team and ensure that people achieve real clarity around what the purpose of the training is and how you will know if you have succeeded.

In the end, you will have a plan that doesn’t contain any unnecessary information and that actually works as it focuses on doing, not just knowing. 


About Paul Eldridge

Paul is the Head Honcho and has close to 15 years of online and blended learning experience. With many battle scars and war wounds over the years, he likes to help other organisations navigate the sometimes complex landscape of learning platforms and content development.