Book Review: Map It by Cathy Moore

Cathy Moore’s Map It: The Hands-On Guide to Strategic Training Design is a breath of fresh air for the learning and development industry, especially considering the high volume of ‘information dump’ training that’s out there today. This guide is a direct response to the ‘course mill’ mindset and lack of focus on achieving business goals.

In this text, Cathy Moore establishes action mapping as a viable approach to creating training that produces business results and improves human performance.

Let’s take a closer look at the ground she covers, then we’ll discuss some of the text’s strengths and weaknesses.

Map It Summary

Map It’s first two chapters are perhaps the most powerful. Moore uses these chapters to highlight some of the most salient problems facing learning and development today: the obsession with developing “courses” and the ingrained “school model” that drives this obsession.

She refers to the school model as the one we’re all so familiar with: the model governing our academic experiences ranging from kindergarten through graduating college. Students learn so that they can pass tests, they go to class a set number of times each week, and they’re evaluated based on the knowledge that they acquire (in the form of tests).

The problem, however, is that what people need to perform their jobs better is vastly different than what the school model can provide. Moore argues that we shouldn’t treat employees like blank slates whose heads need to be filled with knowledge so that they can pass the knowledge checks at the end of their eLearning courses.

Instead, employees need practice activities and resources that will help them do their jobs better. And, taking it a step further, she argues that training is only appropriate when it responds to a gap in knowledge or skill and can actually impact the business goal. As she says, “a ‘course’ is rarely the solution” (15).

Moving on from the first two chapters, Moore suggests that you adopt her approach with a new client as you go through the book. She lays out the ensuing chapters to guide you through the action mapping process each step of the way.

After helping you get in the right mindset to use action mapping to its full potential, Moore digs into the mechanics of her approach.

She explains how to manage the initial kickoff meeting, identify the business goal for the ensuing efforts, determine what the employees need to do to achieve the business goal, and identify why they aren’t doing what they should be.

These sections are rich with examples and practical steps to ensure that you can recplicate her approach with your own clients, and she doesn’t stop there, either.

Once she has walked you through identifying the performance problem and goal, she explains how to choose the intervention’s format, extract the necessary information from the subject matter expert(s), and develop a working prototype. She doesn’t gloss over any of this — this information alone spans over 150 pages.

Moore wraps the book up by covering how to outline the rest of the intervention, produce batches of practice activities, deliver the activities alongside other solutions, and evaluate the success of the project.

Also, the appendix provides immense value to instructional design practitioners. There is a section with a full job aid for the action mapping process, a weighty section about common objections to action mapping and how to overcome them, a checklist for strong learning design, and a summary of the scenario design process in case you need a refresher.

Map It Rating: 9.5/10

All in all, this tome of strategic training design wisdom will work wonders in any instructional designer’s toolkit. Moore’s approach is especially salient in today’s world of learning and development - there is so much training that is absolutely not strategic and in large part a waste of organizations’ money and employees’ time. By using the action mapping approach, you can avoid many of these common pitfalls.

However, there are minor areas for improvement that would’ve led me to grant this guide a solid 10/10. Let’s consider the strengths and weaknesses in further depth.

Strengths

The biggest strength of this book is that you can learn action mapping and begin using it on a new project after only a few chapters. Better yet, her approach helps you focus on the business goals of training and on what people actually need to do differently, which is absolutely essential for producing training that will have a positive impact on the business and employees that it’s supposed to support.

Moore also provides extensive examples that help you see how action mapping can be applied to real life situations. For example, chapter 2 walks you through a scenario from start to finish using both the action mapping approach and the “course mill” approach that is so common in organizations today. When presented like this, it makes it very easy to see why her approach is so strong.

I’d go so far as to say that this book is a must-read for instructional designers with 1-2 years of experience. Once you’ve experienced the issue for yourself (the over-emphasis on courses that don’t actually improve performance), you can see how action mapping is such a simple, straightforward, step-by-step solution to the problem. However, reading this as a new instructional designer can also help you avoid these situations from the start.

Finally, the book responds to many of the common objections that you will face when using this approach. It doesn’t just say, “here’s what you need to do,” but it also says, “here’s what obstacles might come up, and here’s exactly how to deal with them.” This is valuable for designers who are using this performance-consulting-heavy approach for the first time.

It’s also no surprise that the book is so effective; Cathy Moore used her action mapping approach to develop the content for the book, which serves as a testament to the approach’s effectiveness.

Finally, her use of humor keeps you entertained. It’s a nonfiction text, but reading it doesn’t feel like work; in fact, the opposite is true — Moore keeps you wanting to turn the page to see what witticism she conjures up next. It’s even better when those witticisms uncover deep-rooted issues in learning and development, such as the following:

As “instructors,” we spend our days floating high above the real world in a cloud of knowledge. Information is all we have up there, so we’ve developed an unhealthy obsession with it. We give it magical powers … we treat adults like inexperienced children, and we design training that just puts information into short-term memory and takes it out again. (17)

The guide abounds with criticisms and insights like this, and it puts a humorous, entertaining spin on a not-so-humorous problem.

Now that we’ve covered the guide’s strengths, let’s consider some of its minor weaknesses.

Weaknesses

As you’ve probably gathered, this book is one of the top reads in instructional design today. However, there are some minor shortcomings that, if corrected, would turn this piece into a solid modern masterpiece.

First, I felt that an opportunity was missed to provide some of the interactive practice activities that Moore champions throughout her guide. She provides the link to her interactive infographic many times, but links to online activities that allow you to practice the skills covered in the book would have been invaluable.

Instead of providing practice activities, Moore suggests that you use the skills on a project of your own. This works, but it is a high-risk environment where there could be serious consequences for mistakes; these mistakes can damage your credibility, confuse your clients, and frustrate your subject matter experts.

However, Moore is not obligated to provide interactive exercises with a traditional print text. She does provide additional (paid) resources on her website, and her toolkit looks particularly promising for filling this gap.

Furthermore, despite some brief references to working as an external consultant or provider, the text seems to be designed primarily for instructional designers that work full-time within organizations. I would have loved to see some additional information about pricing and navigating the initial steps as an external consultant.

For example, Moore recommends staying away from the word ‘course’ during the early stages of communication with the client, even if that’s what the client is asking for. This is fine, but sometimes, the client really does want to pay for a course to fill their LMS (even if it will not be effective for improving human performance).

As a consultant, you don’t want to spend hours communicating with this client and doing research for them only to find out that they aren’t willing to budge on their request. Advice for navigating this arrangement price-wise seemed like a missing piece of that section.

Regarding weaknesses, that’s all I have. Cathy Moore did an excellent job condensing her decades of experience into this accessible, reader-friendly text, and it’s amazing seeing the ripples that this text is having in the industry.

Again, Map It isn’t a deep dive into performance consulting, but it’s a perfect text for instructional designers who should be using a more strategic, performance-oriented approach.

Map It Review Wrap-Up

Overall, it’s no surprise that training professionals suggest Map It whenever people ask for book recommendations. This book gets at the biggest problems facing the learning and development industry today, and Cathy Moore provides a modern approach to maintaining the integrity of the field.

It’s also no surprise that plenty of Fortune 500 companies and other global brands are using action mapping to solve their human performance problems. It’s easy-to-understand, lean, and effective.

Moore is also working on supplemental resources, workshops, and practice opportunities for practitioners who are interested in paying higher price tags for increased access to Moore and the professional development opportunities that she can provide.

So, what are you waiting for? If you’re an instructional design practitioner who feels that something isn’t quite right with the current ‘school model’ and ‘course mill’ mindset, pick up a copy of Map It and try using action mapping on some projects of your own.