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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What Learning Professionals Can Learn From the Steelers

Having grown up in the Pittsburgh area during the Steelers first run at four Super Bowls, I am a born and breed Steeler's fan. Loved seeing the team get number six!

So why are the Steelers so successful and what can Learning and Development professionals learn from the Steelers.

First, one of the things that Ben Roethlisberger said to his team in the final minutes of the game when he walked on the field and got into the huddle hoping to to march down the field was "’s now or never, I told the guys all the film study you put in doesn’t matter unless you do it now.

The lesson is that all the training and practice and studying doesn't really matter unless you can deliver. We Learning and Development professionals need to put much more emphasis on job performance than on having exciting e-learning or fun activities in the classroom. In the final analysis, it is performance that matters, nothing else. Instruction means nothing if the learners can't perform.

Second, when asked “What was the call on the last play of the game?” Roethlisberger responded half-jokingly. “Drop back. Scramble right. Scramble left. Find someone open.”

The lesson is that Learning and Development Professionals have limits in what we can do. We can design the material as effectively as possible, we can cross all the t's and dot the i's but in the end, it comes down to the learner's willingness to apply the learning to their situation. Their willingness to perform and, at time, their ability to improvisationally apply the lessons learned to the situation.

At some point, the learner is responsible for his or her own learning. We can't train every possible contingency, we can't train for everything, in the end the learners need to want to learn and apply their knowledge to their situation. We can only take so much credit...or blame. The rest has to go the learner who needs to figure out how to apply what we provide to them to their unique situations. Just like Ben.

Third, the Steeler Franchise is successful and consistent. The team has been around for thirty years and only had three head coaches. But have won six Super Bowl. When other, less successful franchises are switching coaches every two or three years.

The lesson, consistent focus provides success. Often learning professionals jump on the latest fad without keeping the underlying fundamentals of good instructional strategies and effective instructional design. Focusing on a consistent application of instructional design methods provides success. The technology may change but the strategies for providing learning opportunities have not changed. We must always apply the right instructional strategies no matter the available technology. If you do instructional design correctly, the learning will be consistent and successful.

So, there is a quick look at what the Steelers can teach instructional designers from a fan of both. What other lessons do you think the Steelers can teach instructional designers?

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John Zurovchak said...


What an excellent post! I really enjoyed how you linked the lessons from the Steeler's win to Learning and Development. Believe me - that was hard to type since I married a Cleveland Browns fan! Thanks for sharing a wonderful way to look at our passion in a new way!

Karl Kapp said...


Thanks for the comment! I didn't really know it was legal for a Steeler's fan to marry a Brown's fan:) Of course if Cowher goes to Cleveland, it will be an entirely different level of rivalry.

John Zurovchak said...

A few Browns victories in the future could restore some luster to the rivalry too...

Interestingly enough, my mother was a Steelers fan (born and raised in Braddock - father worked in the mill - Out of This Furnace is the story of her family) and my Dad grew up in Cleveland. Needless to say, two Sundays every year in the 70s and 80s were VERY interesting in my house. There were 7 kids as well for a total of 9 in the family - 4 Steelers fans....4 Browns could see them lined up against opposite walls of the living room for the game twice each season...being the middle child - I opted for the Vikings as a diplomatic maneuver.

Keep up the great posts!

Karl Kapp said...


Very interesting Sundays indeed. Vikings? Glad you came to your senses :)

Anonymous said...

Love the Steelers and love the lessons learned. Thanks Karl!
- Kristen (married to an Eagles fan!)

Karl Kapp said...


Me too but I managed to convert her (actually living in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s with the Penguins and Pirates doing well convinced her to become a Pittsburgh fan). Now she's almost a bigger fan than me (almost). Thanks for the comment.

Ryan said...

This is a great post to muse on because it features two of my favorite subject areas, the Steelers and learning.

It also highlights one of my main concerns with development of e-learning and it's ability to get past the training stage. I was listening to Jim Kirkpatrick talk about how a lot of e-learning professionals are "sitting on their hands" and worrying more about job security than designing instruction based on sound principles and models.

My concern is that the "fads" that professionals are jumping on are out-racing e-learning developers and releasing instruction before sound instructional design principles and methodologies are applied and testable. The other concern with that is decision-makers will make judgments on the value of the training before these methodologies can be applied. It just seems like too many clients want to go the fad route and leave the sound principles at the door.

Mark T. Burke said...

So, will we see the invention of the "Terrible Training Towel"? When we see terrible training, we can start to wave it around.

Production starts tomorrow if I have enough support!

Karl Kapp said...


Thanks for the comment. The truth is that learning and development professionals need to stay focused on performance and "push back" when non-performance issues (like technology or bad ID) start to take over...I know easier said than done but if we don't improve learner matter how cool our training looks...we won't be relevant for very long.

Karl Kapp said...


Sign me up for a Terrible Training the idea!

Karl Kapp said...


Sign me up for a Terrible Training the idea!

The Dishing Duo said...

Actually I had commented and I don't know where it went, but I had asked if you were going to create a blog about motivation and the Terrible Towel. Now you have two uses.