The Monsters We Don’t See


It is Halloween week! While this year’s Halloween will look different than previous years, one of the ways we can always connect is with stories. Sure, the medium may differ depending on the times, and we may not be gathered around a room, but podcasts and blogs are a great way to share spooky stories to keep us up after we binge on candy and prepare to watch scary movies in the comfort of our own homes. This year’s story is about monsters you may not be able to see on your own.

monsters of l&d

We face these monsters every day as training professionals. They cannot be tackled the same ways the stories of our past have taught us to tame mysterious beasts. They lurk right in front of us; on our computer screen, on our social media accounts, in our books. Staying home cannot protect us from these monsters! This week on the Train Like You Listen podcast, Mad Scientist Clark Quinn, Ph. D, Executive Director at Quinnovation, joins us to spot and fight the monsters that plague so many in our industry.

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Learning Campaigns

What is it like to be on the other side of the training? In other words, do your participants have a working world that lives beyond attending your training? In all of my experiences, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. In fact, often I have to account for not only meeting the training objectives, but also making sure there are several ways for the learned to access information and find various was to prompt them to engage with those tools, events,  and resources.  

The more we can access our learners, the more likely we are to be successful in our training outcomes. This week on the Train Like you Listen podcast, Amy Lou Abernethy, President, Co-Founder and Chief Learning Strategist at Amp Creative, stops by to talk to us about how we can use learning campaigns to increase learner engagement and promote a learning culture.

Transcript of the Conversation with Amy Lou Abernethy

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a bite-sized podcast of all things learning & development. I’m Brian Washburn. I’m the co-founder and CEO of a company called, Endurance Learning. And today, I am joined by Amy Lou Abernethy, who is the Co-founder and Chief Learning Strategist at Amp Creative. Amy, thank you so much for joining me today.

Amy Lou Abernethy: I am delighted to be here, Brian. Thanks for having me.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: “Delighted,” I love that word. Why don’t we start with a six word biography? Today, we’re going to be talking about just the idea of learning campaigns. If I think of my life in the context of this topic– learning campaigns– and if I could boil it down to the six words, I would say “tell me once, and I forget”. How about you, Amy Lou? How would you introduce yourself in exactly six words?

Amy Lou Abernethy: “I lead with my creative heart.”

Brian Washburn: I think that that is a really nice way to get into this topic. And it really speaks to who you are. I’ve seen you present before. I’m excited to have this opportunity to talk with you just a little bit about this idea of learning campaigns. But before we get too far into the conversation, the first thing I want to do is to make sure that you, and I, and everyone else who’s listening, is on the same page. What do you mean when you talk about a learning campaign?

What Is a Learning Campaign?

Amy Lou Abernethy: I think a lot of times, people in our profession, when they create a learning solution, or a learning product, or a learning experience, they think just of the thing– the container for the learning, the e-learn, or the workshop, or maybe the website, whatever it is that they’re designing. But when you start to think about the entire learner’s journey– and I divide it into four parts– when I want to design an organized course of action to promote a learning experience, I want to engage the learner in the learning event. I want to reward them for putting the learning into action. And I want to provide those channels for them to advocate or contribute to the learning experience.

So there’s more than just that one container. It’s the overall journey. And that’s what creates that campaign.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and one of the things that I would always say when I was leading training teams was “I want this learning to be a process, not just an event”. And I like how you used the term “container”, which is different than “event”. Because I think that this idea of container offers for a bigger picture view of what learning can be. I use the word “event”, because I think of a training session, or a conference session, or an e-learning.

And you mentioned that it could be more than just an event, more than just something that people actually do. It can be something that they read, just anything that they can learn from. It’s similar. It’s more of an ongoing thing than just a one-off. In logical sense, it makes sense that we’d want to be talking about a campaign, something that’s ongoing. But can you talk specifically about what the benefit of a campaign can be?

What is the Benefit of a Learning Campaign?

Amy Lou Abernethy: Yeah. And I also want to make sure that we understand that you can have a learning campaign around a single occurrence. It doesn’t have to be something that is ongoing. I think sometimes we’re so caught up in a learning intervention that will fill the gap that our learners have– the skills gap or the knowledge gap. And we get this “if we build it, they will come” mentality.

But so many times, that learning is in a sea of a really busy, really complex workplace. And it just disappears. It doesn’t get the attention that it needs to get. We really need to think of the fact that we are vying for the hearts and minds of our learners inside of this learning event, as you call it, or learning experience, as well as to draw them into it, and then to get them to retain and actually use that information.

Brian Washburn: It’s funny to think that people have jobs outside of learning. Our world is learning. And so that’s what we want people to be doing all the time.

But it’s true. Employees are employed to do stuff, not necessarily to learn, but to do stuff. So there’s a bigger context that we’re talking about. When you’re designing some sort of learning experience that goes beyond just the “container”, as you called it, what do you need to consider to turn something into a campaign?

How Do You Develop a Learning Campaign?

Amy Lou Abernethy: I divide it into four parts. And I’m sure that there could be many other ways that you slice and dice this. But the first thing I think of is awareness.

Is your learner even aware that they have a gap? If so, do they know that your learning experience bridges that gap in a way that will benefit them? So that’s the experience bit.

Engagement– that is the learning itself, when they engage with whatever the vehicle is. Action– and that’s when they start to put that new skill, that new information, into action in the environment. I think of “can you remind or prompt them in their environment?” That’s where I think of things like that. Or “can you catch and reward them when they are putting that action into effect?” 

And then, the last thing I think about is advocacy, how that learner can really advocate for this learning experience, and if there are ways for them to contribute and engage with this whole ecosystem or cycle.

Are Some Workplaces Too Busy For Learning Campaigns?

Brian Washburn: And we talked about this previously, just in terms of, people are busy. They don’t just go to their job to learn. So for people who are listening right now and thinking, “OK, that idea sounds great. It’s great to offer more opportunities for people to experience this learning. But the people that I train are really busy. And I don’t really have access to them, beyond just that learning event or whatever container that that learning takes place within”. Is there any hope for them to be able to design a campaign?

Amy Lou Abernethy: Well, I hope so. Because I hope that their learning container isn’t so isolated from the regular place of work or experience of work that there wouldn’t be connection points. And I would really encourage them to consider all channels of communication that are available to them and to get creative.

Just really consider, where are your learners spending time? Is it on the company intranet? And are there channels within that intranet, where you might put a banner ad or a feedback channel? You know, thumbs up or thumbs down, we’d love to know what you think of this. Any sort of way that you can communicate and get either push or pull information from your learners.

Maybe it’s managers who meet in their weekly huddles. And you can share a slide. Maybe it’s a meme, a really funny thing that just gets people laughing and sharing within the office, or with the Slack channel, or whatever. Any space, any surface, any comms channel is fair game. Think of yourself as a guerrilla marketer. Just get really scrappy with some of your ideas.

Tools to Use in Learning Campaigns

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and so when you’re thinking of trying to reach out to people in different ways, I know that I’ve worked on projects where we’ve used things like Mailchimp. Or one of my clients actually has a texting, an SMS-based way to send out reminders and learning boosts of what people have been focused on. Are there any tools that you have used or might suggest that can help make it easier to create and launch a campaign?

Amy Lou Abernethy: So not actually to gauge the success of the campaign, but things like bots that you just explained, it’s so specific to the organization and the culture of what you’re designing for. It just really depends. I work a lot with technology companies that have just incredibly rich infrastructure and ways of communicating. But then, I also work with some very established and rigid corporate cultures, where it’s literally like a printed newsletter that we put little columns or blurbs in. So I think it’s so site-specific that it’s about knowing the culture and knowing those channels that are available to you.

How Can You Measure the Success of a Learning Campaign?

Brian Washburn: And why don’t we talk about measuring? You mentioned metrics. Is there a way that you’ve used or seen used successfully to gauge the success of campaigns like this?

Amy Lou Abernethy: Yeah. I think it’s important to have those KPIs, those key performance indicators. Sometimes it’s about anecdotal evidence. Because you’re moving so fast. And there are so few ways to get signal that you just look at correlation.

But it could be, if you’re trying to raise enrollment in a particular course, that’s easy to look at and measure. It’s usually a pretty manual process. There are really sophisticated tools for doing these sorts of marketing campaigns, but not as easy to get that signal within a company. So again, it’s going to be very site-specific. But you should think of how you’re going to measure this thing that you’re trying out, and confirm when something works, so that you can scale it, iterate on it, and abandon something if it’s a lot of effort with no payoff.

What Are Little Ways to Create a Successful Learning Campaign?

Brian Washburn: Amy Lou, do you have any examples that you might be able to share with people who are listening about a campaign that you’ve used successfully, and illustrating what this actually looks like, beyond concept in reality?

Amy Lou Abernethy: Yeah, I think that it’s really nice when you’re creating some sort of learning experience that has some media in it. Because you can cut down little snippets, little sizzle reels, little commercials that you can deliver, either via email or social media, or any internal company social learning channel. It also helps to take the content of your learning event and turn it into little trivia questions, things that you can popcorn out into the environment, either as awareness building or even reinforcement, to get people talking after the event. Little micro-learning moments are always fun and usually pretty easy to lift off the content. So those are a couple of ideas

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And I could see turning that into some sort of game, where you have a leader board, in terms of who’s able to answer these questions, or a question a week, and who’s the first person to respond, or things like that. It can help keep it front of mind.

Amy Lou Abernethy: I’m also just a huge fan of stickers. I think a sticker that has a core concept that people can put on a notebook, or on their laptop, or wherever, as an environmental prompt, is a really powerful thing as well.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, so when we talk about this, I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that technology can be cool. But it can also just be an analog solution that people can take advantage of and leverage. It doesn’t have to be high budget.

Amy Lou Abernethy: Oh, 100%.

Get to Know Amy Lou Abernethy

Brian Washburn: All right, Amy Lou, we are getting ready to close out here. But before we do, let’s let people get to know you just a little bit better through a speed round of torturous questions. Are you ready for these tough, quick questions?

Amy Lou Abernethy: I’m so ready.

Brian Washburn: All right, well, what’s your go-to pre-training presentation food?

Amy Lou Abernethy: Got to go with chocolate on this one, Brian.

Brian Washburn: I think that that might be the best answer I’ve ever heard for that question. So I think that you’re jumping ahead on our leaderboard here. How about what’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Amy Lou Abernethy: I am a sucker for Mentimeter. It’s been an old standby of mine for years. And I still just love that tool.

Brian Washburn: And to me, it is that polling?

Amy Lou Abernethy: It is. Yeah, it’s live polling. And especially as we’ve been delivering more and more things virtually, I just find it’s a great interaction tool. But I’ve loved it for years.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. How about a book or a podcast that you think that folks in the learning field should be paying attention to?

Amy Lou Abernethy: I am always trying to figure out what’s going on inside of our heads. So I’m always looking for books that give me insight into how our minds work. And I read recently, Why Buddhism is True. It’s about the science behind meditation. And it really is about this modular theory of mind, which I find absolutely fascinating.

Brian Washburn: I think that’s really cool. We talk a lot about how the brain works, especially when it comes to learning science. But I love that take on the science behind meditation. Why do we wrap up here with any shameless plugs that you might have?

Amy Lou Abernethy: Well, I’m going to plug my company. Me and my team, we’re really passionate at AMP Creative about working with companies to design learning ecosystems that make everyone’s lives better. So you can come visit us at and learn more about us.

Brian Washburn: And if you’re wondering how that is spelled, it’s 

Amy Lou, thank you so much for giving us some time just to hear about this idea of learning campaigns and how learning can go beyond an event or the container. And it really should be a process. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive thing. It doesn’t have to be a complex thing. But it does need to be an intentional thing. And so it was really helpful to listen to some of the insights that you have, as somebody who’s put something like this together.

Thank you, everybody, for listening to this episode of Train Like You Listen. If you’d like to subscribe. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes or anywhere where you download podcasts. And if you like what you heard, we’d love if you could go ahead and give us a rating. Give us a feedback or a comment. That would be wonderful too. Until next time, happy training.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.

Resources for an eLearning Department of One

What is the size of your training department? The biggest team I have ever worked in has been ten people. I was at a worldwide non-profit and we served thousands of employees and board members. Even still, that was considered a rather large training department. As I ramped up in the training world, attending conferences and integrating myself into the network of learning and development professionals, I quickly met people who not only had much smaller groups, but often their teams were comprised of merely one or two people.

As trainers, we often talk about wearing more that one hat at work. But how do you know how to navigate all of the challenges that you face when you don’t have a big team? Emily Wood, author of ELearning Department of One, joins us on the Train Like You Listen podcast this week to share some resources and tips for small eLearning departments.

Transcript of the Conversation with Emily Wood

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast about learning and development topics in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn. I am the co-founder and CEO of a company called Endurance Learning. And today, I am joined by Emily Wood, who is the Education Content Development Manager for the Propane Education and Research Council. She’s also an ATD certificate program instructor. And she has recently written a book called “E-Learning Department of One”. Emily, I’m so excited to have you with us. Thank you for joining us.

Emily Wood:  Thanks for having me, Brian.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: We like to have our guests introduce themselves using a six-word biography. And so when we think of this idea and this topic today, which revolves around being a department of one, and I think of my own life experience in the world of training and development, I think my biography would be “I thrive bouncing ideas off others”. How about you? If you could sum up your experience in six words with our topic, what would it be?

Emily Wood: Obviously, I’ve been a department of one for a while now in a couple of different companies. So mine would probably be “quality work can be built alone”.

What Does It Mean To Be an E-Learning Department of One?

Brian Washburn: So I’ve always worked on small teams, but I’ve never been a department of one. You’ve written a book called “E-Learning Department of One”. Can you tell us a little bit more about what an e-learning department of one can mean?

Emily Wood: Sure. Actually, it varies a lot based on the organization that you’re in. When I was writing the book, I was the instructional designer, e-learning developer, and LMS administrator for my company. I did everything from interviewing my SME to writing the contracts for getting our LMS to the training manuals on all the new software that we purchased.

And I loved it. The variety is really what inspires me. I like to have lots of different little things to do. Now with COVID, I think more and more people are finding themselves in the position of creating online training.

So you might be an e-learning department of one because you want to share your passion with people in the only way that you can safely do that now, which is online. 

The Many Faces of E-Learning

Emily Wood: E-learning can be so much more than an asynchronous module that you’re going to create using an authoring tool. It could be in virtual instructor-led training or even something like this podcast.

As people are more distributed and the costs are decreasing on the software that we can use to do this, more of us are finding ourselves in a position of creating e-learning and really doing it on our own because we are so distributed. So it’s a really empowering world.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And it’s interesting. I was having this conversation the other day with somebody who is a graphic designer. And she was looking to talk to somebody in the field of learning development. She’s thinking of making a career push or a career switch.

And she was asking, so what is an instructional designer? And it’s really interesting. We use these terms, instruction designer, e-learning developer, and they can mean so many different things to so many different people. And you wear so many hats.

And e-learning can be more than just asynchronous modules. It can be a multi-week course that’s actually still instructor-led. It can be something just digital, like a podcast, or microlearning, or things like that.

Job Titles in the Learning Field

Brian Washburn: So for somebody who is developing e-learning or just working on their own in the world of learning development, how do you think that person can self-assess their own strengths and weaknesses? It’s nice to have other people who have a background, who can actually give you feedback. But when you’re a department of one, how do you do a self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses?

Emily Wood: Well, first, I want to talk a little bit about that title idea that you brought up because about five years ago, I remember there was this big trend where people were starting to get into user experience design. And instructional designers or departments of one, like me, made this decision whether or not we were going to call ourselves learning experience designers.

And so I actually– my LinkedIn, I call myself a learning experience designer because I think it’s about the whole ecosystem of things that a person can use to learn. So when Dr. Clark is talking about e-learning, she says it’s anything that’s using technology to supplement the learning experience. And so the performance support that we’re creating, the YouTube videos that we’re making, the podcasts, everything that we can do that’s supported by technology, is really part of what it is that we’re doing.

I also saw somebody post recently about how they got called into a meeting with the CLO of their company and told to make some badges. And they thought they were being called in because they’re an instructional designer. And, of course, we have thoughts about how badging programs should work and certificate programs.

And the CLO of this company didn’t realize that an instructional designer doesn’t mean graphic designer. And I thought, wow, I mean, titles– I don’t want to be in a box. I feel a lot of us are in a renaissance person kind of position where we have to know a little bit about a lot of things. But I like to deepen the tea in the one area that is my focus.

For me, I really enjoy the learning theory and the psychological theory behind what people are doing. But I know a little bit about graphic design and a little bit about LMS and administration. And if it really comes down to it, I can code, but you don’t want to see it.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. It’s so fascinating. So the words we use, the title– especially the titles we use because we’re kind of a specialized world. If we go to a cocktail party and someone asks me, what do you do? I don’t say, oh, I’m an instructional designer or a learning experience designer.

I’ll say, I design training programs or I design learning– I don’t even say I’m a trainer because then people think that I should be more buff than I am. They think gym trainer. [LAUGHTER]

So I don’t even use a title. I’ll just explain a little bit about what I do. And then if they’re like, oh, tell me more. Then I’ll get into it more, and I’ll get really nerdy. If their eyes start to glaze over, then we’ll move on to other topics. It is. It’s one of those things where the words sometimes mean different things to different people.

Sometimes they don’t mean anything to people and that can get us into a whole other podcast topic. 

Working Alone in the Learning Field

Brian Washburn: But getting back to this idea of, for people that don’t have other colleagues who are training with them or developing training, how do you think– or what advice do you have? Or is there a tool that they could use to do some self-assessment?

Emily Wood:  And I think because we’re trending as an industry in this way that we’re getting more and more diverse in the content that we’re covering, the Association for Talent Development thought that they would come up with a way to be able to help us address this. And last year, they redid the certification programs that they have. And they move them to a capabilities-based program so that you can go in and on their site, they have a series of questions that you can go in and answer.

And then based on that, you can work with their professional development team. And they put you into these sort of career ladders to help you find it. So you can go in and say, “I want to be an instructional designer”. And it gives you some of the learning theory, and how to do a storyboard, and how to do some of those types of skills.

Or you can say, “I want to be an e-learning developer”. And then you get into the hard skills, like, “here’s how you use the authoring tools. And here’s how you do the coding.” For me, a lot of that came up in this way of, I have to make an e-learning module.

And I went to graduate school. And they taught me how to use Captivate. But then I needed to add voiceover. So then I had to learn how it was to do a recording studio. And it was one of those things that I learned it by doing it and then YouTube and all of the different ways that we come at it.

I don’t know that there’s any really formal way that you can assess yourself. I think really the way to do that is to ask other people. 

The Importance of Feeback and Networking

Emily Wood:  And the great thing about our industry is that in our hearts, we all want to support each other. We all want to help each other.

So I have never been in a situation where I would ask somebody to look at a module that I was creating for feedback and not gotten pages of feedback. We are not the people that are like, “oh, yeah, that’s fine”. Everybody wants to help you make something better.

So I think it’s really all about networking, finding those people whose skills that you appreciate, and following them. Like you, so many people are doing blogs, and podcasts, and posting up all the different things that they’re doing. And if you reach out to them and ask them, a lot of times they will give you feedback at a certain level.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I think that that is a really neat thing about being able to plug into the world of learning and development using Twitter, using LinkedIn. You are an e-learning department of one. I’ve worked just in small teams. I’ve never had a supervisor with a training background.

And so I’ve found that personal learning network that I can find through connecting with L&D, just folks who are in L&D as well as thought leaders on Twitter or LinkedIn to be really, really helpful. Now do you have some go-to resources, or websites, or tools that make your job as a department of one a little easier?

Go-To Resources for a E-Learning Department of One

Emily Wood: So I use a series of different things. For my networking, I’m pretty into LinkedIn. I think a lot of the people that I talked to were on there. I know there’s a really big community that people are active in in Twitter. But I don’t keep up with that as much.

If I’m looking for something that’s specifically related to training development and unique to trainers, the Learn Train is a website that came out I think last year, and I’ve been pretty active on it, where you can talk about really training specific types of things. And then for my tools, I use the Captivate community for the tool that I use primarily.

But I like the Articulate community for inspiration for new projects because they have weekly challenges. And you can see where people are going in the industry and have all of these different ways to come at solving a problem that you have in your own development.

Brian Washburn: I love Articulate community in particular. I’ve had a chance to meet and speak with David Anderson and some of the other folks that have really made that community what it is. And I love your point.

Whether you’re using Storyline, or Captivate, or any other tool, you can still go to some of these communities that, perhaps, aren’t necessarily the same tool that you’re using, but you can go there and get some inspiration and see what other people are doing because good design transcends your tool.

You don’t need to be using an Articulate tool to develop something that’s really effective in e-learning. So I think that’s a great little piece and nugget that, perhaps, we’ll end on for this particular conversation around a department of one. 

Get to Know Emily Wood

Brian Washburn: But before we go, do you have a few extra minutes where you could give us a little bit more time so that we can ask you some speed round questions?

Emily Wood: Absolutely. Sure.

Brian Washburn: Excellent. You were telling me today, you just finished delivery in a session for an ATD certificate program. What is your pre-training or pre-session go-to food?

Emily Wood: RXBARs. [LAUGHTER]

I find that if you carry raw eggs, people think you’re insane. But they don’t question you as much with our RXBARs. [LAUGHTER]

Brian Washburn: That is true. What’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Emily Wood: I mean, can I say YouTube? Having access to the internet and all the great things that people are posting, that would probably be the one that’s my immediate search.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, absolutely. Being able to get more than just a narrative description on a website, but really seeing a video that can get you to what you need to do. I think it’s really helpful. How about a book or a podcast that learning folks should be paying attention to?

Emily Wood: Well, on my nightstand, all the time, is “Map It” by Cathy Moore and “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen. So when I need my inspiration, those are the two I pick up. And then the newest thing I just got, but I haven’t started it yet, is “Design Thinking for Training and Development and Creating Learning Journeys That Get Results” by Sharon Boller and Laura Fletcher.

Brian Washburn: Nice. And do you have any shameless plugs before we go?

Emily Wood: Can I plug myself?

Brian Washburn: Of course.

Emily Wood:  That’s got to be “E-Learning Department of One”. Paul Wilson, if you need support on using Captivate, is an absolutely wonderful and spectacular support person. In October, I’m going to be speaking in the Learning Impact series for a LearnUpon. And I am going to be speaking at DevLearn on Captivate.

Brian Washburn: If people are going to catch LearnUpon or DevLearn, please do check out Emily. Thank you so much, Emily, for giving us some time today and talking a little bit more about this concept of e-learning department of one. And for everybody who’s listened, thank you so much for catching yet another episode.

You can subscribe to Train Like You Listen on iTunes, on Spotify, or anywhere where you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, please go ahead and give us a five star rating or give us a comment. Do something so that we stand out. Until next time, happy training, everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.

Troubleshooting for Trainers

Do you walk into every training development project knowing exactly what needs to happen to make it a success? If you are like me, probably not. As a junior trainer, a lot of my lessons were learned from failure and feedback. While those are wonderful ways to learn, it isn’t always ideal to put yourself or your team at risk for failure if it can be avoided. Is there a way to be proactive about troubleshooting your next training event?

Sophie Oberstein, author, coach, adjunct professor, and L&OD consultant, joins us on the Train Like You Listen podcast this week to discuss how you can find solutions to training problems.

Make sure to check out her book, Troubleshooting for Trainers, which is available October 6, 2020.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Sophie Oberstein

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone to the Train Like You Listen Podcast, a weekly podcast of all things L&D in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn. I’m the co-founder and CEO of a company called, Endurance Learning, and this week I’m joined by Sophie Oberstein who’s an author, professor, coach, consultant, and all-around L&D professional with over 20 years in the field. Sophie, thank you for joining us today.

Sophie Oberstein: Thank you for having me.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. I was very intrigued by this book that you have coming out called Troubleshooting for Trainers. We’re going to get to that in just a second.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: But before we get there, we always like to start with a six-word biography to have our guests introduce themselves. And for me today, with today’s topic about Troubleshooting for Trainers, my six-word biography, something that sums up my life along lines of this topic is “I’ve always wanted an answer key”. How about you? Do you have six words that could sum up your life?

Sophie Oberstein: Sure. I think this sums up my life, as well as the motivation for this book, which is “I love providing tools for success”.

Brian Washburn: Nice. Now, you do have this book that is out October 6th called Troubleshooting for Trainers. Where did you get inspiration for this book? Who would be able to find it most useful?

What Inspired the Book “Troubleshooting for Trainers”?   

Sophie Oberstein: It started with the adult learning principle, the one that says that people are motivated to learn when they think the content is going to help them to solve a problem. So I just started thinking about “what are the problems that trainers face”, and whether there was a way to structure a book around those problems? I just envisioned a book people could pull off the shelf when they were stuck on something.

Brian Washburn: And when I do a training, a lot of times I talk about the parallel process. So not only am I am I training somebody, but I’m also trying to model how to actually train. And so it sounds like you’re doing something very similar, where it comes with adult learning, which is really one of the core principles, the most fundamental principles, is that it needs to be relevant, it needs to help people solve a problem oftentimes in the moment or some sort of immediacy to it. And so you have that here, which is pretty cool. I think I interrupted you. Were you going to say something else in terms of the inspiration the book?

Sophie Oberstein: Well, I was just going to say where I then started looking around for problems and talking to students in the learning design course I teach at NYU, and talking to trainers at the Core Four conference that ATD sponsors, and in organizations where I do consulting work, just started realizing that there truly was a need for people to just throw their questions out there, and their challenges that they face them, and get them real-time response.

Brian Washburn: And so you have this book that has all sorts of thoughts on how to address a variety of specific issues that may arise for a trainer. What do you think might be one of the biggest picture– or one of the biggest general categories that trainers struggle with?

What Do Trainers Struggle With the Most? 

Sophie Oberstein: If it’s OK, I’m actually going to pull two off of this list I created. So in the book, I share a “Top 10 Mistakes That New Trainers Make”. And the two I want to focus on are the ones I feel are most common and most critical. One of those is providing training when training is not going to help solve the problem.

I think that trainers, particularly new trainers who are really eager to help and want to respond positively to every request that comes their way, don’t do their thorough analysis that they need to do, and don’t feel comfortable suggesting some other approach if training is not the most appropriate in the situation.

Brian Washburn: So it’s like the order-taker syndrome. So you get an order, and then you feel like you have to fulfill it. Especially for newer folks, it’s almost like being a waiter in a restaurant, where somebody asks you for something and then, it’s like, “yes, sir”. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll do that.”

Whereas, really in terms of the world of training, we need to think of ourselves as partners to help further the ability of people around the organization, and training isn’t always the answer. I think that’s a great one. You mentioned that you had two. What’s the other one?

Sophie Oberstein: Seeing training as an event and not part of a blended approach. Like we can create fantastic one-and-done training programs, but it’s just not going to have the kind of positive impact that’s going to create the kind of behavior change that we’re looking for. Trainers need to think about the full experience from the moment someone enrolls in a course, through when they go back on the job and they’re supposed to apply this and remember this and use it.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I’m looking– if I could look in a mirror that took me back 15 or 20 years when I first started, these were two of my biggest problems. Now, when it comes to trainers, it’s not just them who are involved in a program. Oftentimes– or an organization– their supervisors play a role as well.

Advice for Trainer Supervisors

Brian Washburn: Your book focuses on a number of individual anxieties or concerns or struggles, and you have answers or ideas for people who are going through it, like we were just talking about. What about people who are supervisors of trainers? Do you have any advice for the supervisor of somebody who might be new in the field, or just somebody who is struggling with some of these concepts, like lack of credibility or training itself not being well regarded? Those are a couple of the things that you mentioned in your book. But how does a supervisor help somebody who’s struggling with some of these things?

Sophie Oberstein: Well, I think that, whether you’re a supervisor or you’re a member of an L&D team, you struggle with credibility issues, both on an individual level, as well as for the learning function as a whole. I think that supervisors have a higher level of responsibility in that area, or they can at least take some of that layer away for training new trainers, so that they can really focus on the instructional design, the facilitation. Supervisors have more visibility in the organization, sometimes more access to senior leaders.

But everybody struggles with getting people to trust in them, personally, and their work product. And building trust takes time. So the first thing is just be patient.

What If Training Isn’t Well Regarded Where I Work?

Sophie Oberstein: There’s a section of the book that’s called “Training Isn’t Well Regarded”, which is just chock full of strategies for when your function isn’t to– isn’t invited to the table or isn’t seen as value added. And if that’s the case, if training isn’t well regarded where you work, I think it indicates that maybe a broader focus is in order. And as an individual team member, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to influence that.

Whereas, if you’re a supervisor, you could say “yeah, we need to think beyond the one-and-done training program. We need to think about skills that aren’t being– that aren’t needed immediately on the job, but that help people in the world today with the jobs that are going to come, like critical thinking skills or finding data and knowing that it’s reliable– those sorts of broader topics.” You need to find out what outcomes your stakeholders would find valuable and supervisors have more of an opportunity to talk to some of those stakeholders. And you need to invest some additional effort on communication, not only to get people to sign up for your training, but just to involve their supervisors and people at all levels in L&D effort.

Brian Washburn:Yeah, it’s interesting. I think this book is– it’s written and the title is Troubleshooting For Trainers, but I think that supervisors could actually– would be well served to have a copy of this book on their shelf as well. For me, I’ve worked at smaller organizations and my supervisor has never been somebody who has been, or who has had experience in the world of training and development.

And so sometimes, I had my own blind spots that I couldn’t see. I could see how this book could help inspire a supervisor to see where some of my employee’s blind spots are as well. You know, we’ve talked here about troubleshooting, obviously, but let’s end with a strengths-based question. What do you think is the easiest thing to do well when it comes to training other people? 

What is the Easiest Thing to Do Well When Training?

Sophie Oberstein:  So this may seem counter-intuitive, but the easiest thing, I think, for any trainer to do is to be upfront about what you don’t know. So it might feel like you’re coming across as ignorant, but you’re actually building credibility because you’re being real and you’re being vulnerable, which builds trust. So it’s good for relationships with clients and subject matter experts to say things like, “I’m not sure how this will work because I haven’t tried it in an organization like this one, and I look forward to figuring it out together.”

Or to say to participants in a session, “I don’t know the answer. No one asked me that before. But I’m going to track them down, and I’ll send it to you in the next 48 hours.” And it’s just– it’s easier, obviously, because you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to make anything up.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I think that making answers up is the absolute worst thing that you can do. So being able to– and having the courage to say “I’m not sure”, or “I’m not sure how this is going to work. Try it with me and let’s see how it goes.”

Sophie Oberstein: Right. 

Brian Washburn: I know that I’ve been in that situation, as a designer, a number of times with somebody saying, “you want us to use Play-Doh in that activity? Are you serious?” And I’m like, “yeah. Let’s try it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change it.”

Sophie Oberstein: Right. Right.

Brian Washburn: I think that having humility is definitely a key, and it’s part of that low hanging fruit. It’s part of, you’re in control of that. You’re in control of being able to say, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you on that.”

Sophie Oberstein: Right.

Brian Washburn: Thank you so much for sharing some insights. I’m really excited to dive more deeply into the book when I can get a copy in front of me. 

Get to Know Sophie Oberstein

Brian Washburn: But the more we wrap up here, I’d love for our listeners to have a chance to get to know you just a little bit better. So we’re going to do a quick speed round here. The first question is, what’s your go-to pre-training food?

Sophie Oberstein: At first I didn’t think I had one, but then I realized I’ve always got a Clif bar in my bag because I never have time. So it’s a Clif bar, especially a peanut butter flavor.

Brian Washburn: Nice. A lot of people go with light breakfast. But sometimes people tell me that they need a big breakfast or a big hearty meal. I’m like, “I got nerves. I can’t do that.”

I’m with you. The Power bar, the Clif bar is the way to go for me too. 

What’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Sophie Oberstein: So last year I got introduced to the Noun Project. It’s a website that’s just filled with icons for any topic you’re interested in. And it just makes my stuff look better, without being too distracting.

Brian Washburn: Is there a podcast or book that folks in L&D should be paying attention to these days?

Sophie Oberstein: So the book I’m reading I’m loving right now is called Designing For Modern Learning by Crystal Kadakia and Lisa Owens. And just because it builds up the concepts I talked about earlier, and it’s about surrounding learners with meaningful learning assets, rather than creating one event.

Brian Washburn: Nice. And how about– why don’t do we end here with any shameless plugs that you might have? Do you have a shameless plug for us?

Sophie Oberstein: Sure. First of all, thank you for promoting the book, which you can order on Amazon. There is one plug.

And then the other thing I thought I’d mention is that I’m playing with an idea of Troubleshooting for Trainers Service Line, that would answer people specific individual challenges. Like, you could call me with a question or a document for review and feedback. And for the first month of this idea, I’m going to offer it on a sliding fee scale. So pay however much value you get out of my response. So if people are interested, they can reach out to me on my website on LinkedIn.

Brian Washburn: And with your website?

Sophie Oberstein:

Brian Washburn: Excellent. Sophie Oberstein, thank you so much for joining us and for spending some time here. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, your insights. And I’m excited to get my hands on the book.

For everyone else who’s been listening, thank you so much for listening to Train Like You Listen. It is a podcast that you can find weekly on Spotify, on iTunes, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a rating. We’d love that too. Until next time, happy training.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

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