S2E6: Emma Stodel using sports psychology to enhance behaviour change

Emma J. Stodel, PhD, is the Founder and Principal of Learning 4 Excellence. Emma is an educator dedicated to improving performance and facilitating excellence. Her passion is to create meaningful learning experiences that elicit real change in the learner, leading to organizational, professional, and/or personal change. With an academic and professional background in both educational and sport psychology, Emma has a unique skill set she uses to build engaging eLearning solutions grounded in adult learning principles.

Over the last 20 years, Emma has successfully developed award winning eLearning solutions for the healthcare sector, national sport organizations, provincial and federal governments, universities, and other public and private organizations both within and outside Canada. While being integrally involved in the design and development of eLearning modules and programs, Emma also takes a strategic approach to guide organizations looking to improve their learning programs.

When not at her desk, you will find Emma riding her warmblood mare, Cheniah; walking or skiing with her golden retriever, Tilley; or on the golf course with her husband, Pete!

In This Episode

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] REBECCA: Welcome to demystifying Instructional design of podcast, where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what it is instructional designers do. I’m Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you, or someone you know, would like to be a guest on demystifying instructional design, please complete the Be My Guest form available on demystifying Instructional design.com.

I am particularly looking for guests who do not work in higher education. If you enjoy this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog posts and consider helping to support this podcast with a donation to my Patreon account.

Welcome Emma to demystifying Instructional design. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

[00:00:53] EMMA: Yeah, I’m Emma Stodel I’m the founder and principal of learning 4 Excellence which is an educational consulting company. And we specialize in developing e-learning solutions.

[00:01:04] REBECCA: How did you get into this? We often call this the origin story for Instructional design and everybody comes to it from a different path.

I’m curious how you ended up where you are


That’s like when people ask me where I’m from, that there is, I have no short answer to this, which I’m sure is that the case with many people. I’m English. If you can pick up on the accent. And I had a scholarship to go to the U S to study whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted.

And I put my two loves together and went to the states to do a master’s in sports psychology, and fell in love with it to decide that I wanted to go on and do my PhD and picked a professor who I wanted to work with in Canada. And so moved up to Ottawa to work with Terry Orlick at the University of Ottawa.

And at that time they didn’t have a PhD in human kinetics, but you could do a PhD in educational psychology. And so that was what I did. And then I started working with a professor in the faculty of education, through that, getting involved with online. So, although all my PhD research was in the field of sports psychology, I started to work as a research assistant in the area of online learning and loved it.

And then just got more and more involved in that and started to look at how do I apply what it is that I’ve learnt and the skills that I’m developing through the field of sports psychology into more general education, and then online education specific. Having ended up in Canada with the goal of becoming a sports psychology consultant, I pivoted and then became an educational consultant, really using sports psychology principles to enhance behavior, improved performance and Learning 4 Excellence was born.

[00:02:58] EMMA: And I’ve never looked back.

[00:02:59] REBECCA: I love the way that you’ve been able to combine your backgrounds into things. How do you describe to people what you do?

[00:03:08] EMMA: I’d say my big mission is to develop education, that enacts behavior change, and really thinking about how do we figure out what it is we want people to be able to do differently, in order to be able to improve that performance, whatever that may be in business, in life, in sport, whatever it is.

And then how do we put education together? How do we design education in order for that behavior change to happen. So really for me it’s how do we create these great learning experiences that make a difference?

[00:03:43] REBECCA: What types of projects do you find fun?

[00:03:47] EMMA: Pretty much all of them and probably in a fortunate enough position.

I was trying to figure out this morning, how long I’ve been doing this. And I think I’m probably coming up to 20 years. Which is a little scary that I think it’s, I’ve also got to the stage where I know what it is I’m good at. What type of projects I’m good at and where I can help. And then, so starting to make decisions about the type of work that I do, I’m working with clients whose values

uh, aligned with mine and who gets education and who get online education and who are interested in exploring different ways of doing things. And it’s more like it’s more about learning as opposed to, I often find that as some mandatory training and really all that people care about is getting that check mark the end of it.

And it’s a hoop that needs to be jumped through and whether or not a thing is learned, whether there’s any behavior change at the end of it seemed secondary to, as long as you’ve got that green check mark in your transcript, then everyone’s happy and we can move on.

[00:04:47] REBECCA: Who are your typical clients?

[00:04:50] EMMA: I have two main client streams

really. One is national sports organizations within Canada. And so I’ll work with them to develop coach education, volunteer education, officials education. And then the other main client base I have is medical education. So I do a lot of work with the faculty of medicine at the university of Ottawa for mainly physicians in training, but not exclusively.

So also physician professional development, and then also the local hospitals. So I’m really fortunate because I get to work with really smart people. And I get to work with people who are really passionate about what it is they do. So that makes my job fun..

[00:05:35] REBECCA: You mentioned

that you found your niche for what you like to do.

Can you describe what your niche is?

[00:05:42] EMMA: I’m really passionate about creating e-learning experiences that make change. So I would say my niche is working with people when that is their objective. And so if, when people come to me and say, oh, we need people to, we need to ensure that people have read this and can you put it into e-learning or we need to make sure that people understand this.

Can you put it into e-learning? And I will have a conversation with them around. Do you really want them to just read it or do you want them to actually be able to apply that policy or do something different as a result of that policy? Because if you do, then I’m happy to work with you in order to figure out how we design

learning around that. But really if you’re just looking for, we need to check that someone’s read it. How about you put it into a, put it into a PDF. Like I don’t, it’s not clear to me why you’re invested in spending money in this. So most of the time I say I’m able to educate and coach them to understand the difference between the two and then move in the direction so that we can make a difference through this.

Sometimes it’s so where, it just needs to get up there. And my response is usually just, well I don’t think I’m the right person for you and will sort of direct them off somewhere else. So I don’t really know whether that’s answered your question or not. I think the niche, like really, I think the niche is within the areas that I work.

So I’m known within the community of the national sports organizations, special Olympics, Canada coaching association of Canada. I do a lot of work for them and then within the medical field as well. And I’m very fortunate that all my work comes to me through word of mouth.

[00:07:20] REBECCA: What are the typical things that you do when you’re working on a project?

[00:07:24] EMMA: A lot of research, a lot of writing, a lot of problem solving a lot of figuring out how to things come together. A lot of project management. Really? Yeah. I think every project I do is a little bit different because sometimes people, clients will come to me with, they have the content and it’s been like, maybe they’ve been using it in a face-to-face setting.

And so it’s how do we repurpose this for an online setting, but some people it’s very. And it’s really just the very beginning of an idea. And I sort of had, oh, we want to do a module on blah, blah, blah. And so then I’m really working with them to what is a module on blah blah even mean? Who is our target audience?

What are the objectives going to be? And how long do you want this to be? And what can we really achieve within a 20 minute module or an hour module or a three hour module? And sometimes I have the content, but sometimes I really just have to go and immerse myself in whatever the topic is and come up with an understanding of it.

And then go back to the client and say, this is what I’ve been reading about. This is what I’m thinking about this. Is this the type of thing that we’re looking for? And that just becomes the springboard for how we move forward from there. So sometimes it really is. It’s a lot of research and it’s a lot of delving into new topic areas.

And sometimes I feel I’m writing my second PhD because I get so immersed into a topic and researching that and trying to understand it, to figure out for this target audience, what are the types of things that we need to learn? But yes, it’s a lot, sadly, it’s a lot of sitting in front of a computer screen which

I don’t love, but the work is rewarding and satisfying. So I’m willing to chain myself to my


[00:09:18] REBECCA: What other professionals do you work with when you’re creating an e-learning project?

[00:09:23] EMMA: We have a very small team. I have the developer who creates the module within, we typically use articulate storyline and articulate rise.

So rise 360 Storyline 360. And so I have a programmer who does all that work for me. And then I also have a graphic designer, but really, really it’s sort of me and the programmer most of the time. And then, of course, the subject matter experts and the client, and I do take a very collaborative approach to all the work that I do.

And I’m in constant contact, bouncing off ideas with them.

[00:09:59] REBECCA: What’s the biggest challenge that you have in your work?

[00:10:04] EMMA: I think it is. Defining scope with the client. Often, I feel that what starts as, oh, we want a short 20 minute module. It then becomes very hard to keep it as a short 20 minute module. And it’s quickly expands and becomes, becomes much, much larger. There’s a client that I’m working with recently,

and they said, we want two 90 minute modules and we’ve ended up with two, two to three hour modules. And then they’re okay with that. But I think that’s the challenge is when you start working with a subject matter expert, they are an expert for a reason, and they have all these great nuggets. And it’s a matter of figuring out which of these nuggets are relevant for what is going to be a short, short e-learning module.

So that for sure is a challenge. I think. Like for me on a day to day basis where I shouldn’t say struggle the most, but where I, when I have to grapple with the most is figuring out how all the pieces of the puzzle for a certain topic come together, a client might say, oh, we want to do a module on X. And I have to figure out, okay, what are all the big bucket topics that would fall into that?

How do they come together? How do we make everything flow? How do we make it into twine? How, how do we make all these little pieces come together as a cohesive picture at the end? And, and that that’s, that can be challenging sometimes. It’s wonderful. And. Falls into place, but I would say that’s the, that’s the part that requires the most mental energy from me on a project by project basis.

[00:11:51] REBECCA: What skills do you find most useful in your work?

[00:11:55] EMMA: You have to be super, super organized. And you know, for us, we have multiple projects on the go at any one time. So I have a lot of balls in the air. So it’s a matter of knowing where those balls are, where we’re at, who we need to follow up with, where all the projects are in the development process.

So organization is key project management related to that, and then probably the other two big pieces are attention to detailed, which is it’s huge. And I’m very fortunate that that the programmer or developer has an engineering background and is also a little bit OCD. And so everything that he does in his sort of little montra is everything’s pixel perfect

and everything is perfectly aligned and his attention to detail is great. So that really feeds well into my sort of type a perfectionistic personality as well. So that’s a good tip, so attention to detail is huge and it’s something that I value in all elements of this. And then probably the other skill, which I think is really key is good writing skills.

I don’t think you can do this job without being able to write. And actually, and I would add another important element I think is being able, is being a good coach. Like I find that I do a lot of coaching with subject matter experts and with clients and that’s actually. Some, a lot of them will come back to me and say, oh yeah, we learned a lot through this.

And we’ve had insights and not insights around instructional design or education per se, but even around their subject matter expertise. Just the types of questions that I ask and how I ask them, gets them to stop looking at their area in a, in a different way. And, and it’s amazing. Some of the comments I’ve had. Back there was a physician I worked with and we were doing a small

module that was related to content. She had historically taught in a face-to-face setting and it wasn’t an easy topic area. That’s for sure. And the questions I was asking, she was like, oh, she’s now I understand why I get the questions that I do from my students within sort of the amphethetre setting and she’s, I’m totally changing how I’m going to teach this from now on.

She’s not a one-off, I’ve had a few comments where people say, oh yeah, I’m looking at it from a different, a different perspective now, and that’s been really helpful. So for me, that’s super rewarding to be able to actually change how people look at education and how they then deliver their own education in different environments.

[00:14:28] REBECCA: I love that light bulb moment, right? When you can see the light bulbs go on and you’re like, yeah, that is the most amazing and rewarding part of the work.

What advice would you give to new instructional designer?

[00:14:42] EMMA: I think the main piece of advice is you’re the expert in Instructional design and you, it goes back to this concept of coaching again, and you may need to coach your client around what is going to work with in an online environment.

What is important? I would say, have the confidence to stand up for your values, what you feel is important, and what you know works. And I know that’s hard, especially starting out when you don’t have tons of experience behind you, but you’re in this role for a reason. And, and I think you have a responsibility to make sure that what you’re doing is based on sound educational principles and not based on

what the client says they want, the client wants.

[00:15:30] REBECCA: What the

client’s asking for is not always what they actually want. That’s the challenge.

[00:15:35] EMMA: Yeah. Or what they need. And I think one of the interesting experiences I had and I’m going back a long time now, but someone said to me, oh, we need a module on pain management for a frontline care.

And so we start having a, we had a few meetings and we talked about what it is they needed to be able to do. And they talked about it’s really important that they assess pain. And then I went away and I did some research and came back to another meeting and I said, the frontline care providers don’t actually do pain assessments.

And so we’ve been saying this module is for frontline care providers and the personal support workers, et cetera, et cetera. But then we’ve also said there needs to be a section on pain assessments. It’s not part of their role. So then I go back in and I said, we’re looking for, you’re looking for a module on pain assessment for frontline care providers, but that’s not part of their role.

So what is it we’re really trying to do here? And from that sort of this one module on pain management for frontline care providers became a five module suite. That was okay. So the first module is for the frontline care providers, the personal support workers, but we’re not actually doing pain assessment.

What we’re doing is we want them to recognize pain, which is very different from assessing pain. So how can they recognize pain? And then what is it we want them to do. So if they notice that. That a patient or resident’s pain has changed. They need to trigger the assessment with the registered nurses in order to go ahead and do that, to do the pain assessment.

But it was like that came from the questions that I was asking. And if I just done what the client had asked, oh, we need a module on pain management or pain assessment for frontline care providers, we would have totally missed, totally missed the mark. So again, you’ve got to, you have to ask, you have to challenge.

You have to, maybe challenge is a good word, like I find I’m working with physicians. I know nothing about medicine. I have zero clinical background, but if I can’t understand the content that they’re giving me. Then there’s no way that the learners are. And so I have to ask questions and prompt and to get to the stage where I’m like, oh, okay.

I understand. And then I can work with that content to put it into an online environment. And that doesn’t just happen in the medical field. It’s the same. I’m working with a sport organization around judging and officials. And it’s the same thing. I, as an outsider, it puts you in a really great position because you’re approaching this topic with zero background knowledge and the subject matter experts have already made tons of assumptions.

And it’s just part of that day to day life, which is fine once you reach that level of expertise. But for someone new coming in, there’s got to be that first step where everything’s really broken down and explained clearly. And I think experts often find that challenging because they’ve forgotten everything has been chucked into usable pieces so that they can do that work effectively.

[00:18:50] REBECCA: That really puts things into context for a lot of people, but I really also liked that you talk about how the skills are the same, regardless of which audience you’re working with. Like, you still need to be able to ask good questions and do a really good interview that’s the important part of the work.

[00:19:11] EMMA: Yes, I think that’s, I think that’s a really good way of summarizing it.

[00:19:16] REBECCA: What’s your prediction for the future of Instructional design?

[00:19:20] EMMA: My hope is that it stays grounded within good educational principles. I feel that there’s people coming into the field now, maybe whose background in technology is stronger than their background in education. And I feel that sometimes it’s the technology that’s driving decisions.

I also often wonder whether, when it’s the same person doing the educational design and the technology design, whether there is the decision of, oh, this will be, it will be way easier if I do it this way, then that way. And so the education got gets compromised because it’s got to make it easier from a technology perspective.

Whereas. So for me, I really pushed my programmer to be creative and to make software do things that the software doesn’t.

[00:20:19] REBECCA: I can attest to that. Having been in your programmer at one point in time, I can attest to needing, to, to hack the program, to do what makes good learning


[00:20:30] EMMA: And I know he might was programming for, or I wouldn’t be like, oh, whatever, we’ll just do it this way.

It’s way easier. It’s going to be, it’s going to be much quicker for me to put it together this way then to, to build that something that might be better from a pedagogical standpoint. More effort from a technical standpoint. I hope that that education stays at the forefront. I hope there is a shift away from information dumps followed by short term memory tests, which sadly is there’s way too much e-learning out there that takes that format.

Yeah. Here’s his information. Now I’m going to test you on it. I don’t think that’s an effective way to teach into an act behavior change. So I hope we move away from that.

I’m interested to see where the field goes with gamification. I think when you look at gamification, now it is technically heavy to develop.

Like it’s a lot of visual pieces and I think we don’t need to, we don’t need to go there. And how do you use gamification principles to create e-learning without needing to design video games. And I know that the two things are not the one gamification does not mean gaming, but that scenario where I think is going to get interesting and where, where we struggle is when I think about like good gamification principles, thinking about leadership boards, thinking about badges, like encouraging people to keep redoing elements until, you know, until they’ve learnt it and trying to get a better score or whatever is often you need the technology to support.

That’s. So how do you create a leaderboard within the standard learning management systems that exist out there? And so how can you do this at a price that’s affordable for the client and that sort of the big questions we’re asking ourselves?

[00:22:20] REBECCA: Excellent. Thank you very much for this interview. I think that you’ve provided a lot of great insight into what instructional designers


[00:22:28] EMMA: Thank you. It’s been great to see you and to reconnect with you and to have this conversation. Thanks for the opportunity.

[00:22:36] REBECCA: You’ve been listening to demystifying Instructional design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. I’m Rebecca Hogue your podcast. If you, or someone you know, might like to be a guest on demystifying Instructional design, please complete the Be My Guest form available on demystifying Instructional design.com.

Show notes are posted as a blog post on demystifying Instructional design.com. If you enjoy this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post.

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