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ATD Blog

The Elements of an Amazing Learning Experience


Mon Aug 30 2021


When you are faced with a new talent development challenge, where do you begin? Do you start designing your program the way that has served you well in the past, or do you mix things up a bit and try something new? If you take the latter approach, given the array of tools and techniques currently available, where do you start?

In What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training, Brian Washburn, co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning, details a periodic table of 51 learning elements to give you a creative boost and inspiration for re-energizing your development opportunities. The idea for the book, Washburn noted during a recent webinar, came when he and his son were at a restaurant and his son had an activity placemat with food elements in the form of a periodic table. Similar to how you could blend different foods together and add condiments, bonding different learning elements makes things interesting.


Washburn organizes the learning elements into several categories: solids, gas-like elements, radioactive substances, liquids, and interactive elements. Gas-like learning elements, he explained in the webinar, are equivalent to oxygen in the chemical periodic table—you don’t think about oxygen, but you’d certainly miss it if it wasn’t there. Think adult learning theory or learning objectives.

Radioactive elements are ones you need to use with care: If used incorrectly, they can damage your professional reputation. Consider a PowerPoint presentation with too many slides, too much content, or text that is unreadable from a distance.

There is no “right” answer in how to blend the elements. When considering them, think about the X factor. For example, who will be delivering the training or serving as a presenter? Play to that person’s strengths. If a subject matter expert is facilitating, they will be adept at the content but perhaps not so knowledgeable with adult learning principles. On the other hand, is the presenter a seasoned trainer who is quite comfortable with polls, games, reading the room?

Further, the idea is to innovate, get creative–thinking outside the box and inside the table–and discover powerful and new ways of combining elements for effective training.

On Wednesday, from 8 to 9 a.m. MT in the Salt Lake City Convention Center Ballroom A, Washburn will lead “Harnessing the Powerful (and Dangerous) Radioactive Elements of Learning Design.” Copies of What’s Your Formula are available in the bookstore, where Washburn will conduct a meet and greet and book signing today at 2:15 p.m. MT.


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