This article was originally published by MNIB Consulting.

When it comes to helping people take action, there’s one thing that works more than any other:

Giving them more activities, and less content.

This is, in a nutshell, the 80/20 Rule of Curriculum:

For best results, get your learners spending 80% of their time doing — and only 20% of their time passively consuming.

But when confronted with this challenge, a lot of training providers freeze up.

Activities? What kind of activities? How do I make them?

Where do I start?

The good news is — it’s easier than you may think to craft an action-oriented, activity-driven learning experience.

Here’s how:

Step One: Reframe Your Role

The first thing you need to do to make the switch to highly effective curriculum is to adjust your mindset.

There are, in broad strokes, two different ways you can approach the task of creating a learning experience.

The first is with the mindset that your job is to teach. Designing curriculum, then, becomes the process of answering the question: “what do you want to teach?”

The second is with the mindset that your job is to make it easier for participants to learn. The question you ask when you start with this mindset is: “what do they want to learn?”

What research tells us is that simply switching our mindset to the second question — focusing on what people want to learn, rather than what we want to teach — is enough. When instructors approached their lessons planning with this question in mind, their students ended up getting better results…

… without consciously having to change anything else about how they designed their curriculum.

That’s why the first question I always ask clients is: “Who is your perfect participant … and what are their goals?”

It’s only by getting out of our own head, de-emphasizing what we want to teach, and focusing all our energy into helping them learn what they want to learn that we can start the process of creating real transformation and results.

Psst … Need more help figuring out what your Perfect Participants really want? Download this free, 4-step guide and get your answers in 30 minutes (or less).

Step Two: Define the Action

Of course, while just changing your mindset is a big part of the process of creating actionable learning, it’s only the first step.

If you want to get people taking action, you need to have a clear definition of what that action looks like.

Here’s a way to think about that:

Think about the goals you determined in Step One.

Now: ask what it looks like when they’re successfully achieving those goals. Then complete this sentence:

“When my participant is achieving their goal(s), it will be because they are doing [what actions?].”

I use the phrase “looks like” intentionally, by the way.

We are looking for things a third party could see. Not just internal processes, but actual observable actions.

For example, say one of your perfect participants’ goals is to feel more confident at work.

From your perspective as an expert, what does feeling “more confident” look like?

Maybe it looks like …

  • Speaking up in meetings.
  • Approaching their boss to ask for a raise.
  • Getting to the office and knowing exactly what to start working on.

Or maybe it looks like something completely different.

The key is to apply your expertise to determine what success looks like.

Those actions will form the basis for the activities you’ll need to create.

Struggling to Figure Out What Action Looks Like? This free, 4-step guide will walk you through the process.

Step Three: Get Specific and Break It Down

Of course, if it was as easy as “just do the action!” why would someone buy your product?

Here’s the thing:

Information is cheap. As Charlie Gilkey said in his keynote at The Summit, if you’re trying to sell information, you will always lose to Wikipedia.

Instead, what your training is providing is a method. A framework. A path through the noise, so they don’t get lost trying to navigate the murky world on their own — but they have a proven, established system that will help them know what questions to ask so they can get the answers they want.

Training is about creating a space where people can set the intention to make a change, and then curating and providing the tools to make that change easier.

In other words, to get people to take the requisite actions for success, you need to know what will make taking action easier.

The key to sussing this out is to work backward: complete the statement “In order for my participants to do X, they need to first do Y.”

Look at the action step you defined above. For someone to be able to take that action, what other actions do they have to do first?

Then iterate, and ask that same question again.

In order to do those actions, what do they have to do first?

Continue to work backwards in this way, until you come to the steps that your participants are already doing — or that are so small, they would be able (and willing!) to do them without much effort.

Step Four: Get them To Do The Steps

Finally, we come to the part of the process where we turn the action steps into actual activities.


Don’t overthink this — the answer is right in front of you:

You tell them to take the first action. And then you tell them to take the second action. And then the third, and the fourth, and so on.

A lot of times, we hear “activities” and think it has to be something fancy. But trying to get fancy distracts us from the point of a training exercise:

The point of a training exercise (a “learning activity”) is to get people to do the things they need to do, to be successful.

  • Do they need to answer a certain set of questions? Give them the questions, and tell them to answer them.
  • Do they need to come up with a list of people to talk to? Tell them to go create that list.
  • Do they need to figure out where their time is going? Give them a download link to RescueTime, and tell them to install it.
  • Do they need to create an exercise plan? Get them to make the plan.
  • Do they need to put a sticky note with their most important to-do on their computer monitor? Tell them to do it.

Again, the value of your program isn’t in the information you’re providing. It’s in theexperience of guiding them through the process, step-by-step, so they can be successful.

Tell them what to do.

Give them the support they need to be able to complete the action.


That’s activity-based training, folks. It really is that simple.

Tip: Small, Simple Actions Lead To Big Results. Read how Natasha Vorompiova applied this technique to create a course she could be proud of.

Important: Resist The Temptation

Now, I get it. Sometimes, you want to do a bit more than just giving people tasks and assignments.

Here’s what I want to challenge you with today:

Resist this impulse. Don’t try to make your activities more exciting “just because.” Don’t be tempted to try to create artificial fun and engagement. If a worksheet is what is called for, create a worksheet.

Here’s why: when you are testing and evaluating your curriculum, it is vital that you simplify the number of variables.

Every time that you add complexity, you are making it hard to determine whether an activity just didn’t work … or whether the way you presented that activity was the problem.

Think of it this way: you’re an expert. You could do this stuff in your sleep. As such, it’s not very exciting or innovative to you.

Your learners aren’t this way. It’s not old-hat for them. That’s why they’re coming to you!

And so every time you add another layer, another twist, another “feature” in the name of “making it more interesting” you are actually putting more barriers into place that will inhibit their ultimate success.

[Optional] Step Five: Jazz It Up — a Bit

Now that’s not to say that every course must consist only of worksheets upon worksheets.

Instead, the final step is to brainstorm a few different ways that people can take the actions they need to take. In some situations, there won’t be many options. If they need to put up a sticky note, then that’s good enough: get them to write the sticky note and put it in front of their face.

But if you’re feeling stuck trying to discern how your activity might take shape, here are some variables you can play. Consider what the activity look like if done …

  • Solo vs. with a partner vs. in a group
  • Online vs. offline (but still digital) vs. offline (not digital)
  • Drawing vs. writing vs. talking vs. watching vs. listening vs. moving around, etc.
  • Synchronously (everyone simultaneously) vs. asynchronously (on their own time)

For example, let’s say your participants’ needed action is to figure out what they’re going to say ahead of a tough meeting.

If you did it as a synchronous partner activity, online by talking, then voila! Your activity would be role-playing on a coaching call.

If, instead, you were to do it in a group, written, asynchronously then you’d get people to write up a template for what they planned to say, and then share it with the Facebook group to get feedback.

You could also do it as a solo activity, where they did it offline, drawing, asynchronously — by creating a mindmap for all the different things they want to be able to say.

These are all different ways of getting people to do the work that needs to be done. Which is best?

That’s up to you.

Just remember that the more quickly you can get them taking action “for real”, in their everyday lives outside of the training experience, the more likely they are to start seeing real transformation in their everyday lives, too.

Eventually, they have to actually have that conversation, write that sales page, do a morning workout, or whatever else success looks like.

After all, it’s only by doing the work that our clients will experience the transformation they so desperately seek.

This article was originally published by MNIB Consulting, a boutique consultancy helping owners scale their online training businesses. Learn more.

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