Four Questions to Consider Before Creating High Impact Learning

questionmarksIf you want to create more impactful courses or presentations, start with these four questions. These will guide you in building an initial hook or experience that draws people into the content, and gets them excited to learn more. This is a most crucial step in the 4MAT Wheel, and one that some teachers might overlook.

1. Have you gone deeper to get to the heart of the content?
2. Does the concept truly convey the essence of the content (its core meaning)?
3. Does the concept create personal meaning, and does it relate to the daily life experiences of the group?
4. Are you using the same words to describe the concept and the content? Hope not.

1. Have you gone deeper level, to get to the heart of the content?

What is this really about? Is this a significant idea? Does it connect to the main body of content?  Here’s an example. A writing course, full year, two semester course—teacher has divided Writing into a series of  concepts.  She is working on narrative as her first unit design with 4MAT. So she begins by zeroing in on one of the key elements of narrative, describing characters.

characterbuildingumbrellaShe initially chooses Creativity as her concept. This concept is too big. Her content is The craft of character: how to build and bring to life complex and unforgettable characters. Her bridge is Techniques used by good writers to create memorable story characters. 

2. Does the concept truly convey the essence of the content (its core meaning)?

To continue with our example, creativity does not accurately convey the concept of character building. This is an example of a concept that is just too big for the content.  So, what is the essence of character building in literature? Answer: Creating real, authentic and compelling characters. Authenticity is a much better concept for this unit? And it more closely aligns to the essence of this writing skill?

3. Does the concept create personal meaning, and does it relate to the daily life experiences of the group?

Some questions to consider in creating a concept. 

  • Does it have potential for creating meaning in people’s lives?
  • Do people encounter this concepts in their lives on a regular basis?
  • Have they had prior experience with it?                                                                                        

If so they will better relate to what is being taught.

4. Are you using the same words to describe the concept and the content? Hope not.

The concept and content should not be the same. We use the following formula to help formulate a good concept.

_________     is a study in        _____________________
(Content)                                         (Concept)

For example    Character Building is a study in Authenticity
Or workplace safety is a study in Risk

By following these guidelines, you will be able to build an initial connect activity that truly connects to people and gets them excited about the content to come in Quadrant 2, Left or the lecture portion of the 4MAT Wheel.

Special Thanks to John Sung, a Master 4MAT Trainer from Paul N Mark in South Korea for his work to help author this blog contribution. John uses these questions when teaching 4MAT To corporations and universities in South Korea and has found it be a real help when helping people design their teaching concepts. 

What is your Teaching Style?

The 4MAT Framework helps teachers examine the scope and breadth of teaching and learning as it moves through the Learning Cycle. And the role of the teacher and the activities change as people move through the 4MAT Learning Process.

When teachers design teaching based on 4MAT,  they move students from Experiencing to Reflecting to Thinking to Acting. 

• In Quadrant 1, the goal is to engage students in discussion of an experience that relates—The Discussion Method.

TeachersRolesLoResIn Quadrant 2, the goal is to clarify and or deliver key information or ideas—the Information Method.

• In Quadrant 3, the goal is to move to experimentation and problem solving as students work to master the material: The Coaching Method.

• In Quadrant 4, the goal is to have students adapt learning in new and original ways. The Self Discovery Method.

Imagine a teacher who can do all four!

So, the role of the teacher and the activities that are used in each phase of learning change as people move through this cycle.

About Learning offers a simple self-assessment tool if you want to hunch your teaching style. This is most useful when it is used in conjunction with the Learning Type Measure, an instrument for assessing how people learn. So, we invite you to Download this Free Resource to explore your distinctive approach to teaching.


But understanding your teaching preference is only the beginning. So, if you want to transform your approach to teaching or training, we invite you to attend 4MAT Training. This will train you to create full 4MAT Wheel Designs that are now proven to dramatically increase student motivation and performance.

Content Savvy Experiences to Engage and Motivate

This is the third commentary on teacher skill in choosing content-savvy concepts to teach the content they are required to teach. (See the last two blog entries). Concepts are the Big Ideas, the core meanings of the knowledge and skills that make up the content that teachers use to connect their students to personal meanings.

There’s a startling idea, content that has personal meaning for students. Sounds strange in light of conventional teaching practice. And yet what leads more directly to positive learning results than personal meaning?

Circle12and6oclockHere are some ideas for concepts that engage students from The 4MAT Software LessonBank.

1. Content: Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day. Concept: Coping
2. Content: The Characteristics of Sound Waves. Concept: Energy in Motion
3. Content: Normal Distribution and Statistics: Concept: Chance (likelihood of college admission based on race and gender)
4. Content: Marketing Segmentation: Concept: Adaptation

So What experiential activities did these teachers choose to begin their instruction?

1. Alexander’s Very Bad Day: Scenario for the children— A backyard picnic with all the neighbors their for your birthday, but it begins pouring rain. What can you do? Children decide Mom can decorate the back porch and have the games played inside and outside on the porch. Children finish this unit by making coping badges to give people when they are having a very bad day.
2. Sound Waves: Favorite musical groups are scaled from 1-10 for energy in motion with reasons given for the ratings.
3. Normal Distribution: Students guess chances for each member to get into college based on their race and gender. They begin with their personal perceptions followed by actually digging into the stats.
4. Marketing Segmentation: Shoes are brought in and tried on. Some fit, some don’t fit. Why weren’t sizes checked beforehand? (This one is simple but leads beautifully to adaptation skill in marketing.)

The discussions that follow these engaging experiences are will exemplify the meaning and purpose of the learning need (to support what Elizabeth Green calls, academic discourse).

Four things to remember:
1. Adults cannot do the talking,
2. Students have to talk about the core idea, the concept itself: coping, adapting, the energy and motion connection, actual chances for being in the necessary distribution group.
3. They must talk to their teacher and receive coaching and assistance. This will engage them in “academic discourse” and finally
4. They must explain what evidence they are using to devise their own conclusions.

Stay tuned. More content-savvy conceptualizing next Friday.

4MAT Content-Savvy Concept Teaching

A Continuation of Teaching Experientially with Content-Savvy Concepts

CirclesGraphic3The difficulty with 4MAT’s requirement for content-savvy conceptualizing is getting teachers to teach at the conceptual level where the core ideas of the content are the focus, and to develop teacher skill in translating these core ideas into experiences that resonate in students’ lives.

There are two crucial skills here: to know the content at the conceptual level and to know how to connect that concept to a particular group of students in a way that will engage and intrigue.

An example.  Teaching exponents. Essential Question for this unit, how does exponential growth happen?

Students walk in and are given a small cup of water filled half way. They are told to find 3 students and exchange the water in their cups. They do so and immediately find more than half their cups are turning pink. The teacher tells them only three students in the class of thirty three had a drop of dye in their water. The students must figure out how this has happened. The teacher says very little as the students go at it.  I tell you It is a joy to watch and listen to this kind of discourse.

After the explanations, the possibilities discussed and argued, the students arrived at a viable notion of exponential growth. All before any math formulas. The teacher crowned this savvy-content concept experience by asking for a metaphor for exponential growth.The students chose the way rumors go viral through their high school. 

The results from this kind of teaching are worth the time it takes—deep and relevant discussions, what Elizabeth Green* calls academic discourse. These are highfalutin words, yet true, as this kind of teaching calls forth this kind of discourse and with all student levels from primary to university graduate school.

To quote from Green’s book:

“The takeaway message is not that conceptual understanding is more important than memorization, it is that the two are inextricably enmeshed. Any supposed dichotomy between them is false. Children are “sense makers”…educators who assume that memorization takes place outside the context of concepts and principles do so at their own peril.”

Stay tuned for next Friday’s continuation of 4MAT content-savvy concept teaching.

• Building A+ Better Teacher’s 2015. Green. Elizabeth

Help Students See the Value of Learning

Teaching Experientially with Content-Savvy Concepts

Every 4MAT Design begins with a connect activity to engage students and to help them experience the value of learning. This connect must create an experience, an actual experience, that immerses students in the key idea of what’s being taught. And you cannot create an experiential connect without a concept. 

The twofold purpose of the 4MAT instructional framework is always the same; to bring people to learning agility by understanding how they learn and to help them achieve expertise in the material being taught.

But you must know your content and you must know your students to do this. And you must know what learning is. 

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 11.34.53 AMLearning: a process where prior experiences connect and arouse curiosity about what experts know and the skills that can be mastered in light of what the student already knows .

But you must know how to translate content into concepts that students experience in their lives.  So, you do not begin with content, but with a concept that relates to them. This connection is what transforms learning into the student’s world both in and out of school.

Many call it deep learning, or moving beyond surface knowledge. I call it concept-savvy content knowledge combined with intriguing experiential beginnings that engage and motivate.

How do we make these crucial experiential connections to the material we have to teach?

Here are some content-savvy concept connections from lessons and units written by teachers in our 4MATION software:

  • The US Constitution: the tension between freedom and order.
  • Nutrition: Choices
  • Probability and Statistics: Chance
  • Toxicology: Do No Harm
  • Workplace Safety: Risk
  • Place Value: Belonging
  • Magnets: Attraction

Because students can relate to belonging, or chance or choices but may not relate to nutrition or Probability. And that is where you begin by creating an experience of the concept!

Tune in next week for continuing insights on content savvy connections and a listing of how the units cited here were initiated with experiential strategies.

Why People Should Develop Right Brain (Intuitive) Approaches to Thinking and Problem Solving

Creative, out of the box thinking methods are the hallmark of all great entrepreneurs. And now leading educators from some of the world’s most prestigious universities are working to balance the use of both right and left brain thinking methods when delivering courses or designing curricula. 

• Northwestern University uses the term Whole-Brain Engineering™ to recruit engineers to attend its renowned engineering school. 

• Wharton Business School is developing both right and left brain teaching and promoting this in their ads about the university 

• Even Mercedez Benz is promoting how their cars appeal to both the right and left brain.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 7.52.01 PM

So, a key question for teachers…

How can I infuse right brain thinking skills into my classroom to prepare students for the challenges of a rapidly changing world? 

Left Brain teaching is more verbal, systematic, and factual. While right brain teaching is more open-ended creative and exploratory.  So, clearly teachers should balance the use of both. But sometimes teachers focus more on left brained vs right brained methods.

Want to Learn More? 

Request our Free Guide to Creating Right Mode Instruction and receive a free trial to the online HMI, a tool for assessing individual preferences for either right or left mode processing. 

Or if you just want to jump in and try some new things here are some things to try out…

1. Have students experience their own brain processing preferences at the onset of a course or a new section of content. That way, they will enter into the experience with a fresh and open mind and a better understanding of how to use both methods as they move through the learning process.  

2. Use visual assignments that tap into student creativity and their preferences to display information in their own creative and intuitive ways?  This is as simple as changing a worksheet assignment to a visual depiction of what they understand about a key concept. 

3. Use metaphors to deepen student understanding or mastery. 

4. Use creative project assignments, where student must search for the answer and devise their own conclusions.

Raising Student Motivation and Engagement

4MAT is an instructional framework for improving learning and is used by many leading organizations throughout the world, including Samsung Electronics, Aveda Corporation and the Center for Creative Leadership.

The 4MAT 10- step Design Recipe is a step by step guide we created to help teachers construct high impact learning experiences. Here is just one crucial step in the 4MAT 10-Step Design recipe (Step 6). 


In step 6 of the 4MAT design recipe, we provide guidelines on how to create the initial connect activity that is found in every single 4MAT Design.

Why is this step so important?

New research from the Gates Foundation (Measures of Effective Teaching) points to the high level of importance of this most crucial step in learning, which is the place in the learning cycle where students come to experience the value of learning. 


The Gates Research looked at student responses to key questions relating to Quadrant 1 of 4MAT. The top 25% of teachers are shown in the second column, while the bottom 25% are shown on the left. Top performing teachers score higher on measures of student captivation and or engagement and on their ability to confer with students to tap into their unique ideas and viewpoints.  The 4MAT Model places a strong emphasis on this in its 10-step design recipe.

Want to learn more about designing 4MAT Wheels?

Sign up for our a 30-Day Trial of 4MAT Design Software (4MATION) to explore this recipe for yourself and to experience exemplary 4MAT Sample Designs. Use the link below the Login Button in the middle of this page to sign up for a free trial. 

Or take advantage of the many different teacher training options we now offer to learn how to become a 4MAT Master Teacher or Trainer. 

Sign up for About Learning Newsletter

Receive tips and research on maximizing the impact of learning in the About Learning Newsletter. Sign Up Today!


« Older Entries