ChatGPT and AI Tools: Lessons Learned from My Exploration – 2 of 3

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Are you an instructional designer looking to transform your creative process and maximize your efficiency? Discover how ChatGPT and other AI tools can take your instructional design to new levels. This is the second article in a series called, “ChatGPT and AI Tools: An Instructional Designer’s Exploration Featuring the Why, Lessons Learned, and Tools to Use.”

In the first article, we examined the reasons why an instructional designer may want to explore ChatGPT and other AI tools. To recap, first, they serve as exceptional brainstorming tools by swiftly generating a plethora of ideas and suggestions when faced with a blank canvas. Additionally, AI tools like ChatGPT can analyze content, enabling you to effortlessly create various learning assets such as course outlines, video scripts, case study scenarios, and reflection questions. Furthermore, these tools can aid in the creation of innovative visuals for your slides and participant materials, though results may vary depending on the tool. They can also be utilized for proofreading, editing, and rewording content, saving an instructional designer valuable time and effort. Ultimately, leveraging ChatGPT and other AI tools can enhance your productivity, offer fresh perspectives, and open doors to innovative possibilities you may not have considered before.

Now that you know some of the reasons or potential benefits to utilizing ChatGPT and AI tools, are you ready to hear some of my valuable lessons learned during my exploration? Diving into the ChatGPT and AI tool world requires experimentation to get the most effective results. Here are just a few of my lessons learned to develop even more engaging and creative learning assets.

Lesson #1: Utilizing specific, detailed prompts is critical.

It is essential to provide specific, detailed prompts. The quality of the generated responses is solely based on the quality of the text prompts the tool is provided.

ChatGPT is one of the largest and most advanced models of its kind. ChatGPT runs off of algorithms and it does not have ideas of its own or emotions. It only knows what information it is fed. There are two different types of ways to think about exploring with ChatGPT:

  1. Use the tool like an internet search similar to Google where you ask it to find a specific set of information.
  2. Use it to create or generate something new like your first draft of a video script, images for an eLearning course or presentation, etc.

Lesson #2: Shift your mindset from internet search to “thought partner”.

After using ChatGPT for several months, I’ve learned that shifting your mind from Google or internet browser search to having a conversation with a thought partner to bounce ideas off of generated better results. I design many courses about giving and receiving feedback, but who knew that I would have to provide ChatGPT with feedback on its performance to get more accurate results.

An example of this is when I was researching tips for the onboarding of new managers into an organization. ChatGPT would provide a list of tips or facts and I would type in or highlight the specific results that made sense and provided feedback on what I wanted to explore further or drilldown into more.

Lesson #3: Provide value through first drafts and new ideas.

It’s also important to understand the value AI tools provide for instructional designers. These tools can go from a blank page to a list of ideas and suggestions within minutes, making the ideation process much more manageable. However, most if not all, of the results generated in my experiments have needed to be slightly modified. Why? This leads us to lesson #4.

Lesson #4: Suggests ideas that do not align with your audience.

One key caveat is that ChatGPT and other AI tools run off math and algorithms. These tools do not have the relationships you have with your client or team and they don’t know the course or program audience like a human does unless you provide information about the audience. While the scripts and learning scenarios generated by these tools can be great to use as a base, they still need refinement for your clients and their organizational needs.

Lesson #5: Dealing with people’s reactions.

Lastly, not all clients, friends, or colleagues may be sold on or be ready to embrace the value of AI technology. It’s important to be patient and focus on the benefits that these tools can offer. If you believe in AI technology and want to explore this new world for your organization, consider sharing success stories and case studies from other organizations that have successfully integrated AI tools into their training programs, and highlight the specific ways in which these tools can benefit business goals and objectives.

The most important lesson learned

As you delve into the world of ChatGPT and AI tools, remember that shifting your mindset is paramount to their effective utilization. Conducting small-scale experiments or piloting projects to test the effectiveness of the AI tools in meeting your specific needs is crucial in the overall development of your learning programs. While these tools offer a wealth of ideas, it is essential to refine them to align with your audience and organizational requirements. Additionally, navigating the reactions of others and determining if your organization’s culture is ready to implement or accept AI tools should be discussed ahead of time. By incorporating these lessons, instructional designers can ensure they are ready to leverage ChatGPT and AI tools in creating impactful and tailored development programs within the corporate learning context.

Discover which of the game-changing AI tools that were utilized during my exploration process in our upcoming final article and see a sample of my results. After reading the next article, you just might say goodbye to traditional approaches and embrace the future of instructional design with cutting-edge AI tools.


ChatGPT and AI Tools: An Instructional Designer’s Exploration Featuring the Why, Lessons Learned, and Tools to Use – 1 of 3

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How many times a day do you see or hear something about ChatGPT or Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools? For me, on one hand, it seems like the world of AI has been unleashed with the rolling out of ChatGPT in November 2022. I was at a birthday party recently and friends were discussing how ChatGPT is taking over the world. There were a mix of opinions on what they thought AI tools could do for their industry, yet most of them had not tried ChatGPT or any other AI tool.

On the other hand, my curiosity has been increasing over the last several months about what AI tools can do for me as an experienced learning professional and instructional designer. I must admit there have been moments of being shocked and surprised at the results. I decided to devote some time each week to exploring and learning about the world of AI and it’s been quite fascinating.

In this series of articles, we’ll explore why an instructional designer might use ChatGPT or other AI tools, share some of my lessons learned to for more effective results, and provide some insights from my personal exploration of specific AI Tools.

Why Use ChatGPT or Other AI tools?

  1. Great brainstorming tool

One of the primary benefits of using ChatGPT and other AI tools is that they can be great brainstorming tools to help you generate ideas quickly. When you’re faced with a blank sheet of paper, it can be challenging to know where to start. However, with ChatGPT, you can provide it with some prompts or questions, and it will generate a list of ideas and suggestions within minutes.

I was researching a course on time management. I could have gone to Google and asked similar questions to what I asked ChatGPT, but let me show you the difference of what an AI tool can do for instructional designers.

My ChatGPT time management prompts in order:

  • What are 10 tips for managing time at work?
  • Tip number 5 from above mentions time management tools. What are some examples of time management tools?
  • What’s the number one time waster at work?
  • How do you know if you’re wasting time?
  • Write a 60-second video script on how to manage time and be more productive at work using the information from above.

The key difference is not only can you ask ChatGPT to list off topics, the tool allows for drilling down on a particular result and, as the conversation continues, ChatGPT is applying the logic from the conversation to the next question.

  1. Paragraph analysis of content to create different types of learning assets.

In addition to ideation, AI tools like ChatGPT can also help you create different types of learning assets. For example, it can analyze a paragraph of content and generate a high-level course outline with learning objectives, a paragraph description of a course or suggested modules, the first draft of a script for an eLearning or explainer video, scenarios or role plays for case studies, or reflection questions for blended learning.

One of my experiments was taking a page of text from a participant guide from a recent course on safety management. I asked ChatGPT to think like a “corporate learning instructional designer and to write three multiple choice quiz questions based on the participant guide text.” I was surprised to see how quickly three multiple choice questions were generated and the accuracy of the questions compared to the questions I had personally developed for the course.

3. Innovative visuals for slides and participant materials.

Another benefit of AI tools is that they can be used to create innovative visuals for your slides and participant materials. For example, Canva has a “Magic Write” function that allows you to type in a description of what you want in an image, select whether you want a drawing, cartoon, or photo, and then it creates four choices per search. An example of the “Magic Write” function was when I was creating a slide to depict the patient satisfaction process. I wanted a particular scene with a home healthcare clinician knocking on the door and then greeting the patient. With just a few words of text, “Magic Write” generated over 16 images for me to select from and I could have continued generating images with different prompts.

So far, the AI graphic generator tools have been very hit or miss for me. For example, I wanted an image for a leadership course of a male hurdle jumper who misses the hurdle and one where they knock down the hurdle. Most of the images generated had an arm missing or part of the hurdle missing or the image had strange angles that did not look realistic.

  1. Proofread, edit, or reword content.

AI tools can also be used for editing or rewording content. ChatGPT can quickly analyze and provide initial responses and content that can be edited for your specific audience, saving you time in the process.

  1. Time-saver.

The bottom-line is that ChatGPT and other AI tools can save time and provide new, innovative ideas that you may not have generated on your own.

Ready to explore ChatGPT and other AI tools?

According to, “as of March 2023, ChatGPT crossed 1 billion users”. Yes, over one billion people have tried ChatGPT and are taking steps into this new world of AI. ChatGPT and AI tools are powerful resources that can greatly enhance your instructional design work and help you create more effective development programs. From generating new ideas and content to providing real-time feedback and support, these tools offer a range of benefits that can improve the overall learning experience for employees and leaders alike.

Curious about what lessons were learned during my exploration of ChatGPT and specific AI Tools? Stay tuned for the second article in this series which will focus on five valuable lessons learned to help produce more effective results with your AI Tools.


Leveling Up Your Consulting Skills with Emotional Intelligence

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In my first blog, “Consulting Skills For The Workforce of the Future”, I shared what it takes to become an exceptional consultant – the ability to perform and deliver results as well as more advanced soft skills that allow you to become connected and invaluable, such as executive influence, strategic agility, and political savviness.

Today, I will share another skill which is critical in “Leveling Up” as a consultant. We know that the ability to drive business success and build long-term relationships requires logical and structured thinking. The consultants who pay close attention to the details, immerse themselves into the fabric of the client organization, and are savvy enough to stay clear of business landmines? Those of us on the hiring side know that these are the most valuable consultants of them all.

The consultants who pay close attention to the details, immerse themselves into the fabric of the client organization, and are savvy enough to stay clear of business landmines? Those of us on the hiring side know that these are the most valuable consultants of them all. “


So, Now What… How do you LEVEL UP as a Consultant?

Do you want just a “Thank you” when you finish a project? Hopefully you want more than that! You should desire a customer who is ferociously finding ways to continue partnering with you because you have become invaluable to their organization. Consultants who are truly “worth their salt” look back on each consulting engagement and ask themselves and their customers “What could I have done differently to improve that experience or outcome?” This should happen even when the engagement is a success, as self-awareness helps us make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively.

Leveling up as a consultant requires a high degree of Emotional Intelligence (EI) – the ability to identify, understand, and manage one’s emotions as well as the emotions of others, in order to build and maintain positive relationships. It also includes being able to think clearly and collaborate to solve problems. [1]

Remaining flexible in response to changing circumstances is the “holy grail” in consulting.”

Emotional intelligence provides a level of empathy to place the consultant in the customer’s shoes, so-to-speak. They will understand the perspectives, needs, as well as concerns of the customer. Being empathetic can help to build and stabilize relationships because it builds trust and rapport. Adjusting their approach based on the needs and requirements of the client is the key of understanding and meeting the customer where they are! Remaining flexible in response to changing circumstances is the “holy grail” in consulting.

Priorities as employers continue to evolve and hiring or promoting based on experience and skills are not enough. With recent economic conditions, it’s important to understand the importance of emotions at work. EI is important across all aspects of work, especially in roles requiring interaction and collaboration – which is at the core of what consultants do!

A person with high EI is more likely to:[2]

  • Name and express their feelings and connect to their emotions, to be able to understand and manage their responses to stimuli and events. They can identify root causes rather than ineffectively trying to deal with symptoms or results. They are self-aware, openly expressive, and healthily assertive.
  • Know what they want and make plans to achieve their goals. They have a better understanding of what drives them. They are more likely to understand what gives them pleasure and why. This means they are more likely to identify their values and know their purpose in life.
  • Remain calm in challenging situations. By labeling their feelings and recognizing their emotions, people with high EI can learn to manage their feelings instead of allowing their emotions to hijack their thoughts. This can help them remain calm while others are losing their heads.

So, where are you on the emotional intelligence scale? The following behaviors will help aid you in the journey to highly become emotionally intelligent:

  • Practice self-awareness: Pay attention to your own emotions and try to identify what triggers them. Journaling or reflection of day-to-day experiences is a way to begin capturing your emotions.
  • Learn to manage your emotions: Once you become more aware of your emotions, you can learn to manage them in a healthy way. Practice deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation.
  • Develop empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings of others. Practice active listening, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and compassion.
  • Build stronger relationships: Emotional intelligence is also about building strong relationships with others. Be open and honest in your communication, showing appreciation and gratitude, and develop trust.
  • Seek feedback: Ask trusted friends or colleagues for feedback on your behavior. This can help you identify areas for improvement and develop a better understanding of how you come across to others.


[2] Forbes, “Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?”, December 2022

Allyson’s AI Journey

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I was at a lunch recently where the two tables around us were talking about AI and ChatGPT. I wasn’t eavesdropping, it just seems that I keep hearing people talk about this everywhere I go in person and online. I then realized it was time to accelerate my learning!

As a leader of Talent for my firm, I knew from my research that AI was transforming how we were working: from ChatGPT assisting in the talent acquisition process and jumpstarting compliance training assessments to AI enabled voiceover to enable us to update elearning at a faster pace.

My first night with ChatGPT was like watching my teenager scrolling through Instagram. I was hooked, writing prompts, and evaluating the output. My brain swirled with the possibilities of this tool, not only for my role as a Talent Leader but also as in my role as a mom. The last prompt late that night was to chart out a plan for our summer college visit trip. While the driving times weren’t all correct, I do have a sketched-out plan that will save hours and serve as a starting point for our family planning session.

The possibilities with ChatGPT and AI seem endless, however, I know I have a lot to learn to harness this power. As a learning leader for many years, I realize that I need a learning journey for my team and me. Jumping into a solution without understanding the objective can actually be a loss of productivity and scrap learning.

So, this is the beginning of my journey to learn how AI and the tools around it can enable me, my team, and my organization to add value and be more productive.

Stay tuned for more of my journey!

Why Equal Opportunities Are Never Enough: Putting Humanity at the Center

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The International Women’s Day theme of #EmbraceEquity couldn’t be more well-timed. As women, we have been committed to, and contributed to, progress for fair and equal treatment in the workplace for decades, but we are now asking for more. More in terms of identification and acknowledgement of accessible opportunities for all demographics: ethnicity, race, gender, disabilities and more. Equality, while important, is no longer enough.

I love that the 2023 [IWD] campaign puts humanity at its center, emphasizing the importance of seeing and acting in a way that enables the unique and wonderful qualities of our employees to be called out into the light and leveraged for the gifts that they are.

It starts with the simple fact that we often use the words equality and equity interchangeably, not pausing to acknowledge their distinction. Understanding is at the crux of this topic, and, ironically, when we fail to pause and understand the very difference between these two words, it prevents us from moving beyond where we are today.

Equality vs Equity

Equality simply means everyone is treated the same exact way, regardless of need or any other individual difference. Equity, on the other hand, means everyone is provided with what they need to succeed. At a foundational level, equality and equity are different, but they work together to ensure a level playing field in the workplace.

Equality, while a noble concept, falls short on its own as it presumes that the same opportunity can be accessed by all individuals. By treating everyone the same, employee-specific needs aren’t considered and this impacts the ability for employees to take advantage of opportunities presented in the workplace. Ultimately, equality on its own counterbalances the good work taken to eliminate biases and create inclusivity and instead propagates unconscious bias and the inability for everyone to feel included and create an inclusive culture.

Equity’s focus, on the other hand, is the distribution of resources based upon individual needs. If we truly desire to advocate for, and apply, equity in our workplaces, we, as leaders, must recognize that not all of our employees start out from the same baseline. The reach to access and activate opportunities doesn’t typically look the same for everyone.

Enabling Employees

When we #EmbraceEquity, we, as leaders, see our employees as individuals, asking and considering the who, what, when, where, and why of our employees so we can deliberately create a ”how” that responds to their unique circumstances. This is when we begin to enable our employees’ personal contribution and success in our workplaces.

This is not easy, because, as leaders, it demands that we take time to be present, to listen, and to empathize. It makes it much more complicated, as there are barriers: time, skills, and even our personal comfortability and vulnerability with topics that might be foreign or sometimes that even hit too close to home.

Call to Action

I love that the 2023 campaign puts humanity at its center, emphasizing the importance of seeing and acting in a way that enables the unique and wonderful qualities of our employees to be called out into the light and leveraged for the gifts that they are. The very essence of the campaign name #EmbraceEquity highlights the human need to be brought into the fold, to be seen, to belong. It calls leaders to embrace the challenge of leading from our own humanity and a place of vulnerability to create equitable companies and workplace cultures that can help the world thrive. This is what a focus on equity does.

If we, as leaders, commit to stepping into this space, at our very worst, we will create conditions that result in equitable environments where all can participate and prosper, but at our very best, we will help people achieve their full potential and we can rise together above the ceiling of equality to a place where opportunity knows no limits.

On IWD 2023, how will you #EmbraceEquity?


What is a Future-Ready Workforce?

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As we begin 2023, you may be asking yourself “What does it mean to be a future-focused workforce?”

First, we should define a future-focused workforce: Future-focused means how adaptable is the organization and its employees; what are their internal capabilities to scale and find new ways to innovate and stay current; and what is their ability to grow the organization and their people?

As we kick off the new year, we know there will continue to be constant change, attracting and retaining employees will remain a factor, and the ability to innovate and shift will remain the same. How do you plan to address this within your organization?

So how do organizations continue to build a future-focused workforce? According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report: The Transformation of L&D [1], the top four areas of focus for L&D programs in 2022 were:

  1. Leadership and management training
  2. Upskilling and reskilling employees
  3. Digital upskilling/digital transformation
  4. Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Focusing in these areas will help to build the key skills for organizations to be future-focused.

Leadership Development and Essential Skills

Since the pandemic, whether you call it soft skills, power skills, or essential skills, the importance of leadership development and essential skills has shifted dramatically. The need to work in a remote or hybrid environment, ability to maintain and enhance productivity, build organizations that are diverse, equitable and inclusive, and to innovate and stay relevant is a challenge. Employees who are agile and have a growth mindset can make effective decisions, work collaboratively with diverse and, often, virtual team members, will be successful in today’s continually shifting business environment. The ability to think critically, problem solve, or influence decisions can impact an organization’s success from the bottom of the organization all the way up to the top.

Organizations should look at providing learning opportunities to everyone in the organization, no matter what the role. Everyone is a leader and can leverage leadership skills. Helping employees gain, or have access to developing, these skills is essential to the success and growth of the organization. Communication and interpersonal skills help individuals work well with others while time management and problem solving can make employees more valuable and productive.

Here are some few areas to consider:

  • Communications – Good communication encompasses many facets such as listening, conciseness, body language, open mindedness, and understanding the correct medium to use. Good communications, whether verbal or written, provide clarity and direction, can prevent, or resolve, problems, build better relationships, or increase engagement, build trust, and promote productivity.
  • Time Management: The ability to meet deadlines and excel, particularly in a remote environment, is based on good time management. Having good time management skills will help to reduce stress, create better work life balance, increase productivity, and provide greater focus.
  • Critical Thinking – There are several benefits to critical thinking. It reinforces problem solving skills by helping individuals and teams more effectively diagnose problems, help resolve conflict, encourage curiosity, and foster creativity.
  • Problem Solving – This applies to any position or industry. No matter what the business is, problems consistently arise and need to be addressed. Some competencies of problem solving are emotional intelligence, creativity, lateral thinking, and resilience.
  • Interpersonal Skills – We interact with individuals and teams constantly including peers, managers, cross-functional team members, etc. Having effective Interpersonal skills will foster valuable communication, build trust, create and maintain meaningful relationships, demonstrate social awareness, and highlight leadership qualities.
  • Growth Mindset – A growth mindset is about how a person will adapt and evolve when facing challenges, is learning something new, or has a setback. This is beneficial for both an employer and employee as it helps you and the organization become more adaptable and open to learn and grow, become resilient and continue to move forward, and foster a positive work environment.

Upskilling and Reskilling Employees

Future skilling employees can be tricky due to continual and rapid changes in the business environment. It’s particularly hard in the tech sector and with general technology since technology changes so quickly. Each organization will need to understand those functional or technical skills that will be required for their specific industry. To keep up, companies need to continually assess and define key skills for one year, three years, five years in the future. This should not be a one-and-done assessment. It should be reviewed to adjust to the changing business environment. Once the assessment has been completed, organizations need to work with L&D to develop learning journeys and adopt good learning systems.

Organizations can work with their HR Department, Talent Department, or they can hire a consulting firm to conduct a skills gap analysis. This will help with strategic workforce planning, foster employee engagement, and assist with recruitment and retaining the right talent.

Steps to take in a skills gap analysis include: Assess and prioritize the common skills needed for all employees and the top specialized skills needed for each role. Map out what learning solution is needed for each of those skills, should it be part of a career path, and determine where and how the content will be delivered. And then create multiple approaches to learning.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Learning programs and tools should be looked across the entire organization and inclusive to reach all employees instead of following traditional talent identification processes which may exclude or miss hidden talent and skills. This approach builds an inclusive environment, increases employee engagement and retention, and builds a sense of belonging.

Internal mobility

Company culture is also key to engaging and retaining employees. According to LinkedIn data [2] opportunities for learning and growth is the #1 driver of a great culture. A way for employees to grow is the opportunity to apply their skills and talent beyond just their job descriptions. Forward-thinking organizations want and encourage their employees’ interests. Organizations should embrace these desires and allow for internal mobility and fluidity among their employees. This could mean moving into different areas/roles within the company or, perhaps, just enhancing skills to stay relevant within their current role. Opportunities should be made available to participate in stretch assignments or strategic initiatives or to take on responsibilities that are not defined within their current role. By offering advancement and career growth, this not only saves time and money in recruitment efforts, happy and engaged employees are more likely to stay and recommend working at their organization.

Next Steps

As we kick off the new year, we know there will still be constant change, attracting and retaining employees will remain a factor, and the ability to innovate and shift will remain the same. How do you plan to address this within your organization? Connect with CARA to learn how we can help you build a future-ready workforce. In the meantime, check out this two-part article on how CARA leveraged learning personas to build out an emerging leader program for a locally based client build their future-ready workforce.


[1] report/LinkedIn-Learning_Workplace-Learning-Report-2022-EN.pdf

[2] report/LinkedIn-Learning_Workplace-Learning-Report-2022-EN.pdf





Future Proof: How to Keep L&D Relevant and Impactful in a Changing World – Thoughts from the Talent Development Forum

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As the great resignation marches on, with an average of four million people leaving their jobs per month for over a year and a half, many organizations are finding that, as talent leaves, so does the institutional knowledge of business processes, systems, products, as well as best practices. The resulting skill gap is unprecedented.

The Southeast Wisconsin chapter of ATD held their annual Talent Development Forum panel on October 28, 2022 at Kohl’s Innovation Center, focusing on the impact of this skills gap to those of us in the Learning and Development (L&D) field.

For background, according to the ATD 2022 Skills Gap1 report, 83% of organizations report a skills gap, with 78% reporting that they expect to face such a skills gap in the future.

A skills gap is a significant difference between an organization’s current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals and meet customer demand. When an organization has a large skills gap in its workforce, it risks not meeting customer expectations and demands.

Michelle Reid-Powell

“This isn’t a training problem,” said CARA President and CEO Michelle Reid-Powell, “It’s a business problem. And there has never been a better time for Talent Development professionals to establish our relevance and make a significant difference in the success of our companies.”

Not only does Talent Development address the skills gap, it plays a significant role in retention.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Special Report2 2022 released in September discusses the connection between learning and retention. Per their data:

  • 76% of employees say they would stay at their company longer if they received development support. Numbers rise even higher for business decision makers (+7).
  • Employees consider opportunities to learn and grow as the #1 driver of great work culture, a jump from 2019 when it was ranked #9.

Taken as a whole, prioritizing employee learning and growth presents a winning retention formula for organizations—or, alternately, if neglected, could pose a threat.


Michelle Reid-Powell, President and CEO of The CARA Group, led the discussion with some insights into how to keep L&D relevant and impactful in a changing world. Based on their research and expertise, CARA recommends the following solutions to combat these challenges:

  1. Learning and Development teams should join forces with those associated with Workforce Planning and Talent Acquisition. Sometimes, the best way to fill a role is to recruit internal talent before they look elsewhere for career mobility. Working together, these teams can align approaches and metrics and partner to optimize talent initiatives.
  2. Review your course offerings and ensure you focus on value over volume. Rather than an endless database of possible courses, create learning paths to support specific roles in upskilling (especially those most in-demand by the organization).
  3. Support and develop your managers. The role of Manager is more challenging than ever. They need to build their skill sets around creating emotional safety, career and skills development, coaching, managing a remote workforce, and how to support diversity, equity and inclusion more fully. They also need a playbook for how to support their employees in training (many whom are new to both the organization and the role.)
  4. Connection is more important than ever. Learning strategies need to consider all stakeholders for learning – and ensure they have a role in supporting the success of the organization and the learner in applying the skills post-training.
  5. Metrics are still important, but organizations are focusing on only a few critical formal measures. Instead, more frequent stakeholder feedback from learning sessions is being reviewed. Focus groups, surveys and performance check-ins are important for all learning sessions.


After Michelle set the stage, she turned to the panel for their insights. We were fortunate to have four key leaders from SE-WI to share their experience:

  • Yolonda Evans, Organization and Change Effectiveness Consultant at American Family Insurance
  • Guillermo Gutierrez, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at Manpower Group
  • Allison Peschel, Vice President of Client Services at JB Training Solutions
  • Mike Tack, Director of Talent Development at Kohl’s

Some highlights of the discussion:

How is the world of work changing?

Given the level of volatility in the business environment, we need to prioritize HOW to equip people managers to lead change and create a safe work environment where people can share their ideas and viewpoints.

Mike Tack emphasized the importance of walking in the manager’s shoes. He stressed the need to know the daily challenges managers face in performing their jobs and aligning that with learning solutions.

There has never been a more critical time for hard skills – what I mean by that are people skills. Those are most important now,” stated Guillermo Gutierrez.

Yolanda Evans

L&D is being embraced right now because managers are exhausted. We (L&D practitioners) must prioritize what our leaders truly need right now. Yolonda Evans chimed in, “Now they need us – for a long time we were the scapegoat. For the first time L&D is a first responder – double edged sword!” Yolonda exclaimed.

An interesting observation shared by Allison: “we are also finding that what is challenging now are the informal conversations that were happening before the pandemic are now more formal conversations in the remote world.” There is a need to be more intentional about having those informal conversations.

How do you make a business case for training?

We are all going to have a moment when we have to sell training as an investment: tell a story – why the training matters, why is it important? Talk about money but also the time invested by managers. Talk about skills and well-being – think about internal and external customers. A manager’s stakeholders are their direct reports. If a manager attends a training, what impact is that having on the employees of the manager’s team? What does attrition/retention look like? How will your learning strategy impact people three layers removed?

Mike Tack

Mike outlined how Kohl’s has changed their approach in how they offer training. His group found that they were offering too many options for the same type of training. People signed up but did not attend the training session leading to inefficiencies in deploying their limited training resources.

In response, the team tried a cohort model with a limited period to sign up for a limited number of seats. This created a sense of urgency around the training. They had four cohorts out of 50 people and all four filled up within 30 minutes. They did not change what they were offering but changed how they marketed it. A business case can be made by looking at how many people are clamoring for the training. This also required Mike’s team to be comfortable with having too many people interested.

Allison Peschel

What metrics are you using?

Allison noted that companies continue to track metrics including attendance, sign up vs. show up rate, net promoter scores, number of people reached, facilitator score, relevance to own job, tracking any barriers to application, etc. BUT – over the past year she has also seen a major shift to this idea of tracking sentiment, versus tracking skill. Michelle noted that this is something not traditionally done but could be a measure of engagement. Tracking sentiment can be a meaningful metric; if it goes well that is the business case for the training. If not, then the case can be made for why the training must happen.

Guillermo Guitierrez

Adding to that, Guilermo emphasized “ Show me the value rather than show me the numbers. How are we going to figure out what training did to the culture? How will we add questions to measure that? How can you be innovative in culture – how will your learning strategy impact people three layers removed.”


Lastly, panelists shared some final thoughts –

  • Design and solve for your business not trends.
  • Know your business, walk in your manager’s/coworker’s shoes.
  • Get a true sense of the business, what is happening, what is needed. Create, solve, and design from there.
  • We are all businesspeople in service of what the business needs.
  • Be your authentic self – don’t worry about pushing back on requests.
  • Talk about being remarkable. Is what we create remarkable? Aim to create something you want to tell your friends about.

Our thanks to the panelists and attendees for this dynamic, engaging, and insightful discussion!

Mark your calendars for this year’s Talent Development Forum scheduled for October 27, 2023 at Kohl’s Innovation Center!

1 ATD 2022 Skills Gap Report :
2 Microsoft Work Trend Index Special Report September 22, 2022:

How Learner Personas Can Enhance your Instructional Design Approach, Part 2

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Welcome back learner persona enthusiasts! In the previous article (How Learner Personas Can Enhance your Instructional Design Approach, Part 1) we showed you how five personas captured the core learning motivations of our healthcare emerging leader program population. We described our research process and how we identified participants’ core learning preferences and goals, along with how to best reach them in support of their leadership development needs. Through our analysis, we identified key ways that individuals tended to show up as learners: Champions, Change Agents, Achievers, Connectors, or Troubleshooters.

“Where our learner personas made the biggest difference was in enhancing our design to include instruction and activities that were essential to enhance the learning experience of our participants.”

As a reminder, here is how these five learner personas were defined based on our research:

  1. Champions: Individuals who, above all else, are passionate about making a positive impact on peoples’ lives, providing exceptional above-and-beyond service, and demonstrating a calm and positive approach when working through challenge and conflict.
  2. Change Agents: Individuals who are proactively forward-focused on improvements and see themselves as advocates for positive change within their role and the organization at large. Those individuals who pride themselves, above all else, on being flexible, agile, and resourceful when adapting to change—both incremental & breakthrough.
  3. Achievers: Self-motivated individuals who set a high bar on their personal performance and engage in a relentless pursuit of their ongoing growth and improvement. Those who are driven to be best-in-class in their area of expertise and continually push themselves outside of their comfort zone.
  4. Connectors: Individuals who are focused on making an authentic and personal connection with others (both colleagues and patients alike), model what it means to foster a collaborative team environment and strive to do what is needed in the service of achieving the highest-performing team possible.
  5. Troubleshooters: Individuals who are driven to leverage their skills, knowledge, experience, and creativity when addressing challenges and solving problems. Those who are motivated in demonstrating the initiative to explore creative and out-of-the-box solutions, while building a reputation for being a “go to” resource within their specific area of expertise.

Through our research, we also obtained the following data to describe the goals that different individuals desire as part of their learning experiences:

  • Apply Skills & Knowledge: Having an opportunity to incorporate their technical/functional knowledge and expertise; staying up-to-date on best practices in their field; observing and learning from others who demonstrate expertise.
  • Meet Challenges: Having ways to apply their learning experientially while practicing while doing; troubleshooting solutions to refine their approach.
  • Set & Achieve Goals: Establishing structured learning goals with an opportunity to assess their progress; ensuring a clear understanding of, and alignment with, the “why.”
  • Flexibility & Independence: Acquiring learning in a flexible manner, including using blended methods and an opportunity to access on-demand content.
  • Build Relationships: Working with others to solidify their understanding and exchange insights gathered from topics to reinforce content learning.
  • Innovation & Creativity: Ideating and iterating when solving problems and identifying new opportunities.
  • Reflective Introspection: Reflecting upon concepts, new insights, and how to apply them; taking practical and tangible next steps to reinforce their learning.

With these foundational elements in place, we were then able to assess how the personas aligned across two distinct and equally important learning spectrums—key learning drivers (short- vs long-term) and overarching leadership interests (intrinsic vs extrinsic). As illustrated below, Champions tend to be intrinsically motivated based on the satisfaction they obtain from helping others and demonstrating leadership in-the-moment. Conversely, intrinsically motivated Achievers are focused on how actions they take today position them to achieve their long-term leadership development goals. While Change Agents are extrinsically motivated toward immediate ways they can influence and lead proactive change, Connectors are guided by the synergy obtained from maintaining network relationships as a way to achieve goals together. Finally, Troubleshooters are agile and flexible, leveraging both short- and long-term opportunities to solve problems and demonstrate leadership in their roles.

Learner Persona Spectrums

You may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but exactly how did this help you to design your leadership development program?” Great question. Let’s get to it. In short, we leveraged these learner personas by including training methods and topics that we knew were critical to our participants. Where our learner personas made the biggest difference was in enhancing our design to include instruction and activities that were essential to enhance the learning experience of our participants. We listened to the powerful examples of learner personas brought to life based on how individuals engaged with their colleagues and patients. Through these examples, we understood how to best tap into individuals’ leadership and learning interests, from their own words. The following table captures a summary of participants’ key motivators, mottos that guide their work (from their direct quotes), learning goals, preferences, how to reach them, barriers to learning, and leadership interests.

When combined, these key learner persona elements are provided below and highlight critical aspects addressed in the development of the emerging leader program.

Learner Persona Instructional Design Dimensions

In the end, the Emerging Leader Program was designed to meet the needs of all five learner personas, as described above. The program objectives were to implement an interactive learning experience that provided participants with practical concepts, tools, and techniques to develop their leadership skills. The program target audience included employees of color who were ‘ready now’ for, or recently promoted to, a first-time leadership role. It was our goal that by completing the emerging leader program, individuals would not only solidify their readiness to take on a leadership role but also shorten their learning curve and increase their probability of success in the process. One key factor in achieving this was aligning our learner persona details throughout the program’s design.

We also developed an Emerging Leader Learning Journey map to demonstrate how individuals would progress through the program components. The learning journey illustrated the pathway through the program, following a Leading Self, Leading Others, and Leading the Business framework. This included specific learning content that began with fundamental concepts for transitioning to leadership, involved content on leading teams and creating an inclusive team culture, as well as content on developing business acumen and understanding compliance, laws, and policies relevant to a leadership role. The learning journey also described specific milestones through the 12-week program, along with delivery method (which was a blend of online a-synchronous self-study combined with virtual instructor led weekly sessions.). We were intentional in designing the program to leverage their technical skills and comfort in working with technology, ensuring flexibility (with structure) to focus their learning, and providing a ‘sandbox’ with multiple experiential opportunities to practice new skills while working together.

We hope you found this case study example both interesting and informative. It was a fascinating opportunity for us to incorporate learner personas into our design approach. As instructional design and learning professionals, we are always looking for new ways to enhance our process and end results for our clients. This article series shows how learner personas provide an important tool to add to our toolkit to help us achieve this goal.




How Learner Personas Can Enhance Your Instructional Design Approach, Part 1

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When was the last time you’ve created a development program wondering “How well will this align with the audiences’ inherent learning needs…really?” If this is a question you’ve asked yourself, this blog issue is for you! In this article we present a case study introducing the concept of ‘learner personas,’ which can make sure you’re tapping into individuals’ underlying learning needs, interests, and motivations. We will also show how knowing this information helped to design and develop a powerful leadership development program, based on a recent client example. But first, some background.

“One thing that worked particularly well was taking a thorough, thoughtful, and customized approach by incorporating learner personas as a foundational instructional design element.”

The learner personas you’ll see come to life in this article were developed as part of an initiative involving a consortium of three health systems in the Chicago area. The consortium shared the collective goal of positively influencing and enhancing the diversity of the local labor market. The mission was to remove barriers and create avenues for nontraditional workforce populations to further develop their employment opportunities.

As a result, an emerging leader program was designed to support people of color in developing skills that will position them to advance into leadership roles within the healthcare sector. Ultimately, the program rests upon the fact that diversity in leadership is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business—as inclusive organizations have demonstrated themselves to be more profitable, innovative, and agile than others. The opportunity in creating this leadership development program was to truly understand individuals’ unique learning styles and preferences so that program customization would be aligned with participant needs across critical dimensions.


Enter the learner persona. Ultimately, the objective of learner personas is to appropriately represent the individuals you are trying to develop. In doing so, personas highlight individuals’ skills, motivations, and learning preferences—as well as the challenges and struggles that may impact their work and learning experience. According to Harvard Business Review (Peter Merholz, 2009) “A persona is the single most effective way to generate and spread empathy throughout an organization.” Indeed, the process of creating personas shows a desire to tap into the core needs of a learner group so you can best customize your program content and approach. This was important, as the leadership development program was designed to rectify the fact that current leadership development initiatives do not typically address some of the most critical challenges, behaviors, and skill gaps that nontraditional participants faced within their communities.

To ensure that our personas were appropriately reflective of our population of learners, we embarked upon a structured interview process with a sample of 24 high-performing individuals across the organizations represented. During the interviews we collected a variety of information, including targeted questions across the following areas: Current role and work dynamics, work experiences and approach toward learning and development, opportunities to demonstrate leadership, future work and leadership interests, as well as learning interests and motivations.

Data were analyzed and themes extracted that identified individuals’ work and learning style preferences, learning goals, barriers to accessing learning, how to best reach them, as well as their leadership interests. Important to note is that each interview was conducted by a member of two consulting organizations working in partnership. This ensured that interview questions reflected the cultural needs of the target audience and provided a consistent interpretation of interview responses.

Results of our thematic analysis produced five distinct learner personas, described below:

We also administered a brief online survey to augment the resulting interview themes, by providing participants with additional time to reflect upon their: Key motivations, learning style, learning approach, and current technical skill levels. The resulting survey responses reinforced certain aspects of the learning environment that would best facilitate participants’ learning experience. For example, individuals stated preferring a balanced learning approach, including both an interest in learning as part of a group as well as taking time independently to reinforce content learning on their own. The vast majority of participants also reported their current technical level as skilled, being able to work with different technologies with little help. This was critical information to validate, as the leadership development program was designed to be delivered using a virtual format.

In the end, the emerging leader program was designed to meet the needs of all five learner personas. Specifically, the development of learner personas was based upon who the program was designed for as its key audience. Based on interview comments obtained, we developed a high-level program content framework including what skills and behaviors were demonstrated by the most effective emerging leaders. We then developed an emerging leader program journey map to demonstrate how individuals would progress through the program components.

As with any case study, it becomes important to reflect upon lessons-learned. One thing that worked particularly well was taking a thorough, thoughtful, and customized approach by incorporating learner personas as a foundational instructional design element. This provided an opportunity to later customize learning content and methods in a way that met participants where they were. It was also helpful to take a targeted needs assessment approach across the three involved organizations as part of developing the local community. One challenge that was addressed involved the timing and scope of an initiative of this magnitude. When it became clear that adjustments needed to be made to further reinforce the time-phased implementation of the action learning project during the 12-week program, the consulting and internal healthcare project team met and adapted the approach, as needed.

Now, stay tuned for Part 2! This is where we’ll show how we leveraged these personas in the development of the emerging leader program itself. Specifically, in our next article you’ll see how we leveraged these learner personas to customize our instructional design and development efforts—as well as the impact it has on program content and approach.


Break The Bias: Reflections on International Women’s Day 2022

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The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreaktheBias. Bias is tricky, often an unconscious, knee-jerk response to the unknown. It is perpetuated by culture, those unspoken assumptions of one group about another. Bias manifests itself as the thousand paper cuts of language itself, embedded in words and phrases so familiar they may not appear at first to contribute to equality’s cause of death. So how do we “break” bias?

If, at its core, bias originates in ignorance and fear, the natural antidote must be knowledge and compassion. When confronted with bias, we have a choice to respond by asking ourselves, “What did I just learn from this experience so that I can prevent it in the future?” When called out on our own unintended linguistic offenses (parents of teenagers know what I’m talking about), we can admit our ignorance, say, “Thank you – I’m learning,” and do our best to show it.

At The CARA Group, we have a motto: “Change, Learn, Grow”. This reflects the services we provide to our clients. It also describes our aspirations for the CARA culture. Being open to change means admitting that we don’t get better by staying the same. Having a learning culture means acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable. That growth is an individual and a group process that requires commitment, focus, and time. To #BreaktheBias requires a commitment to “Change, Learn, Grow”, to take the small individual steps that together become a giant leap for mankind humanity. (See what I did there?)

In honor of International Women’s Day 2022, let us take a moment to acknowledge the women of Ukraine, where the battle that is being fought is one of survival. In Ukraine, IWD has been a public holiday for decades. As we take the day to recommit to “Change, Learn, Grow” in our local communities, let us also honor these women who will not have the chance to celebrate. One only need to witness their strength and resilience to #BreaktheBias about what a woman can do.