blurry image of gym equipment
eLearning Learning
April 3, 2024

Building Muscle and Mastery: Parallel Journeys in Physical and Professional Development

As the Director of Learning Experience at a custom learning solutions company, I've dedicated my career to the science of learning — designing instructionally-sound experiences that not only engage learners but truly change behavior and improve performance. Yet, earlier this year, I found myself embarking on a personal journey of learning of a different kind: re-acquainting myself with the gym after more than three decades.

This experience, through the lens of a learner and a professional in learning and development (L&D), revealed profound insights into how we, as L&D leaders and experts, can enhance our practice. This story directly addresses you, L&D leaders, highlighting our shared dedication to excellence and broadening our teams' potential to realize our collective objectives.

As I stepped into the gym for the first time in decades, the experience was both novel and strangely reminiscent of the familiar. The initial phase included a comprehensive tour and an insightful consultation with a trainer, where we focused on identifying my strength-building goals. Notably, the trainer did not provide detailed instructions on how to operate the machines, acknowledging my familiarity with most of them. Instead, he pointed out that each machine had a QR code for further information and assured me I could ask someone if I had any questions. Integral to this process was recording my starting weight for each machine, setting a baseline to monitor my progress. Although I hadn't set a specific end date, my intention was clear: to see incremental increases in the weight amounts I could handle. 

The Analysis Phase Embodied

This phase of orientation and goal identification at the gym naturally aligns with the Analysis phase of the ADDIE model, a cornerstone in instructional design. In instructional design, the Analysis phase serves as the foundation upon which we build our learning solutions. It's where we delve deep to understand the learners' needs, the organizational goals, and the problems that need solving. Similarly, my initial gym experience involved a thorough assessment to understand my current fitness level, my goals, and the specific challenges I faced — setting the stage for a personalized training plan.

This direct parallel showcases the importance of a meticulous analysis to tailor the learning (or in this case, the training) experience. Just as my trainer used the insights from our discussion to design a fitness program aligned with my goals, we as L&D professionals leverage the Analysis phase to craft learning solutions that address the precise needs and objectives of our audience.

Learning by Observing and Doing

Despite the orientation, facing the gym's machines for the first time was a blend of excitement and uncertainty. Each machine had a QR code for on-demand demonstrations, a nod to just-in-time learning. However, I found the most value in observing others and then diving in to try myself, adjusting as needed — a testament to the power of modeling and experiential learning.

In our field, we often discuss the importance of modeling best behaviors, or demonstrating the right way — rather than telling — and providing learners with opportunities to practice and reflect. My gym experience underscored this, as watching seasoned gym-goers, and then applying what I observed accelerated my comfort and competence with the equipment.

Measuring Success and Adjusting Accordingly

The tangible measure of success for me in the gym — incrementally increasing the weights on each machine—parallels how we define and monitor success in learning initiatives. Crucially, I tracked my gains each time I used a machine, which not only provided a clear record of progress but also served as a motivator to push further. Just as I knew I was progressing by lifting heavier weights and meticulously recording these achievements, we use assessments, feedback, and performance metrics in educational settings to gauge the effectiveness of our learning solutions. 

Although there was no formal mechanism for holding me accountable to my goals other than my own tracking, the trainer periodically checked in with me at the gym, asking how I was doing and if I needed any assistance. This personal touch adds an informal layer of accountability and support, enhancing my motivation and commitment to my goals. This continuous cycle of setting goals, engaging in hands-on learning, observing models, measuring success, and receiving periodic check-ins forms the backbone of both a productive gym routine and impactful learning experiences. Just as these check-ins from the trainer provide me with encouragement and an opportunity to adjust my approach as needed, in educational contexts, instructor feedback and peer support play a similar role in reinforcing learning objectives and ensuring progress towards achieving them.

Bridging Gaps and Expanding Capacities

Reflecting on my journey from novice to confident gym-goer, I'm reminded of the challenges and opportunities we face as L&D professionals. Our clients, like you, are not just looking for partners who can fill immediate gaps. You seek collaborators who can bring creativity to the table, stretch beyond current capabilities, and drive real performance improvement.

This narrative of re-orientation in the gym acts as a metaphor for our approach to learning —merging evidence-based practices with customized strategies tailored to address your distinct needs and surpass expectations. It's about fortifying not only our learners but also our organizations, empowering both to accomplish beyond what they envisioned possible.

As we continue to navigate the evolving landscape of L&D, let's take inspiration from every learning opportunity around us, even those seemingly unrelated as a return to the gym. After all, at the heart of our profession is the belief that every experience holds the potential for growth, improvement, and newfound strength.


Jenny Fedullo

By Jenny Fedullo, Director, Learning Experience

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d'Vinci Interactive is an award-winning comprehensive learning solutions provider for corporate, government, medical, non-profit, and K-12 target markets.

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