This is a review of ZengerFolkman’s ActionPlan Mapper. Let me provide a little background so you’ll understand my conclusions.

In 2002 I wrote an article on e-learning’s unique capability—that it was one of the few learning media that enabled us “to have meaningful and renewable contact with learners over time.” I argued that e-learning was a tool, and that we ought to figure out what it does well and maximize the advantage of that capability—as long as our e-learning methods are aligned with the human learning system. No sense utilizing an e-learning method if it doesn’t facilitate learning and performance.

I wrote about several learning factors that seemed ideal for e-learning. I also challenged the industry to get its butt in gear. At that time I didn’t see many applications of e-learning that took advantage of the connectedness capability. I just reread that article in preparation for writing this blog piece. It was really quite brilliant—even though I must say so myself—and I recommend it highly. You can purchase it for five bucks at www.work-learning.com/catalog/. Go ahead, make me rich.

A few years ago, I also taught an online class entitled Leveraging E-Learning. One of the suggestions I made in that class was that we ought to use our new-found internet/intranet capacity to connect with our learner’s managers as well as our learners. I even developed some rudimentary templates that outlined how this could be done.

Although I’m recounting my former brilliance for you in the hopes that you’ll hire me as your learning consultant in the near future—and to make myself feel good during these dark winter days—true geniuses don’t just rant and rave, they make things.

Today’s training-genius award goes to the folks at ZengerFolkman who developed the ActionPlan Mapper (www.zfco.com/apm.asp). They have given me renewed faith that eventually e-learning will meet its promise.

The ActionPlan Mapper is a web-based hosted solution that is available 24/7. It was designed to help training participants take what they learned and apply it to their jobs. As Kelly Clayton, Product Leader for the ActionPlan Mapper, has said, “What we’re trying to prevent is the Monday-morning problem. People go to a training course, they take notes, they have discussions, they get energized, they’re roaring to go, but when they get back to the job on Monday, they are overwhelmed with their normal workload and the momentum for action fades to oblivion…The ActionPlan Mapper works by prodding the learners, reminding them to stay focused and keep pursuing the action items they previously resolved to accomplish.”

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Review Details

From the two intensive demos I’ve seen, the ActionPlan Mapper is a great tool. From a learning-to-performance perspective, it creates some powerful learning effects:

  1. It indirectly reminds learners of what they learned, helping them to remember what they learned long enough to put it into action.
  2. It spurs workplace action by regularly reminding learners that they ought to be working to implement what they learned.
  3. It helps learners keep a focus on their intended post-training actions.
  4. It brings managers into the process of training implementation, making them partners and/or drivers of training application.
  5. It can be used to hold learners accountable for their action plans, helping to significantly lift the priority of training implementation from a “nice-to-do” to a “must-do.”

Although no formal evaluation studies have been completed as of yet on ActionPlan Mapper (maybe they haven’t heard of LearningAudit.com), I’m willing to bet that learners who use ActionPlan Mapper will be at least 50% more likely to utilize (on the job) what they learned in the classroom or in an e-learning course. I actually think performance improvements could be more like 200 to 300% for many post-training situations, but I’m being conservative because results always depend on many variables. Besides, a 50% improvement in on-the-job application is huge already!

The cost of the product seems reasonable to me, especially given the upside I just discussed. For only $40 to $250 per person (depending on several factors), ActionPlan Mapper is yours! The thinking behind the design is that simpler is better. Clayton claims that what ZengerFolkman was aiming for was a product that people would find easy and intuitive to use. As long as they have a web connection, people can use ActionPlan Mapper anytime anywhere to stay in touch with their action-planning projects. This design strategy is paying off as clients are using the tool beyond the training context for development planning, follow-up to performance reviews and strategy sessions, and more.

Description by way of Screen Shots

(Note: You can click on the screen shots to enlarge them.)

On the first screen below, participant Bob Sherwin has two action-planning “projects.”

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The second screen shows Bob’s goals for his action-planning project, “Becoming a Better Manager.” The grayed ones are already accomplished. The goal 4.4 has a lock next to it to indicate that it is a private goal (only viewable by participant, not by his or her manager).

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Participants are prodded and reminded with emails from the system. They can also be encouraged to focus on their goals by their managers. In fact, the system seems ideally structured to encourage conversations on tasks central to business goals and organizational success.

The third screen shows the manager’s view.

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More complex systems like Microsoft Project are available for some similar applications, but these are not really suited to the kind of use envisioned by ZengerFolkman. A product offering similar capability in providing training follow-up, FridayFives, is offered by the Fort Hill Company (http://www.ifollowthrough.com/).

A bright idea.

Since it’s easier for me to come up with ideas than it is for these folks to develop these products, here’s an idea, for what it’s worth.

I’d like to see these systems augmented to create a parallel structure to provide direct learning reminders and/or practice opportunities. For example, for a leadership course, learners could be given periodic scenarios related to managing people. Learners would have to decide what to do in these leadership situations. These scenarios would help remind learners of what they learned and thus make it much more likely that when faced with similar situations on the job that they’ll remember how to perform successfully. The learning research shows clearly that such “retrieval-practice” opportunities are great to prompt long-term memory. The leadership scenarios would also provide learners with feedback and help them assess their competence, thereby giving them a heads-up to the kinds of information they could look for as they attempt to learn on the job.

Other reminder systems and retrieval-practice systems could be developed as well.

Still, bottom line, I love the ActionPlan Mapper concept. It’s simple, but it drives training transfer. It’s relatively inexpensive, but it utilizes one of the uniquely potent characteristics of online learning—the connection we can have to our learners and their managers. Way to go ZengerFolkman!!