A better start for proficient learners by Hélène LARMOIRE

  29 April 2022 |  Léa Renault  Digital Learning News

Instructional designer- What if the quality of our training, both professional and personal, was not based on the use of the latest app, technology or more games but on a backdoor path with two little-known bricks… And yet, when used in a method, they make the learners more competent after your training. Isn’t this your objective too? In this article, I’m sharing with you my understanding of enaction, the concept of PAS and their implementation in the ASCAR method. Once integrated and put into perspective in relation to what you create, they will allow you to improve your courses, your content and hence the quality of your training. Enjoy your reading.

A sanitized training

Training courses, books and articles tell us about the importance of defining the objectives of a training course.

Let’s say they are perfect, SMART and based on Bloom’s taxonomy or some other.

Let’s assume that the rest of your training is perfectly orchestrated, whether it’s face-to-face, distance-learning or both, with a strong emphasis on practical application. Perhaps you do a good part of the activities without technology or, conversely, with all the “best” in digital learning today: learner-generated content, gamification, social learning, serious games, immersive learning, AI, etc.

Let’s say the learners succeed in your training.

I have bad news for you: your training will not be applicable on the job, or at least only to a limited extent!

What an investment to not see any real benefits on the ground!

How can this happen?

For proficient learners at the end of the course, is it enough to chop up the technical skills of the experts and trainers/speakers, extract what seems important to them and to us in relation to the needs of the field, and shape them into ever more engaging activities? This is a simplistic approach.

Indeed, this is how learners acquire knowledge and skills that are used in various situations. Once accumulated, competence is built (competence 1). By personal effort or with the help of the trainer, they transfer in this training (we always hope 😉 ) also some knowledge, acquired previously. This allows for building another competence (competence 2). Nevertheless, this whole process is done out of context since training is rarely done on the job. And rarely is it designed by people who are competent in the job and who are doing it effectively and efficiently daily.
Thus, competence is reduced to “knowing how to act” or “knowing how to mobilise”, as if Man were an evolved machine that would pull out of its hat (brain) what it needs according to the context. [Aside] The full range of competencies is also found in the Competence-Based Approach (CBA), which is increasingly present in professional training.

This sadly amounts to saying that training is only a training ground for learners around knowledge to be acquired and mobilised. In the end, there is a bitter taste of too little. It is a conception which, in my opinion, comes close to a life spent entirely in a virtual world with an avatar or in a predictable world. The training offered in this way is a more or less distant representation of the ‘construction’ of a competent person.

This vision of training highlights two issues in particular:
1) learning is not just about the brain and cognition (the acquisition of knowledge); the whole body is involved
2) to “produce” incompetent people who have difficulty in mobilising the skills thus acquired in a relevant way, in daily life, in situations (multiple situations in a post, moreover) and in real-time

I could see the 2nd problem, without being able to put clear explanations and solutions in front of it to design better training. But I was completely ignoring the 1ster: this holistic vision of the learner. However, I had already been including a more global vision in my training courses for a few years, with aspects of mental preparation and public speaking, to give just one example of a training course often given on setting up a business. Finally, my vision was still incomplete.

It took a publication by Domenico Masciotra and then his book (see reference at the bottom of the article) for me to identify these problems and my own path so far. It was quite a realisation that both saddened me (“But what have we been doing for so many years!?“) and filled me with hope.

This was the beginning of my quest to do even better since mid-2021.

The 2 missing bricks

What happened next in my brain: “Great! Well, here we go. All I have to do is implement the proposed method. That’s THE solution!”

I am looking for a method. I find it (ASCAR method), but I come up against 2 terms: the enactive approach and the concept of PAS. I will explain them. I passed by them without really paying attention to them. But I quickly realised that as long as I don’t know them – by which I mean integrated, understood knowledge – the method would not make sense. This would lead me to stagnate my pursuit of excellence to build better training.

My quest, therefore, continued with a diversion, towards this path that I did not suspect, to discover these two terms.

On the way, I see a dirty brick that has no connection with the environment. I pick it up, rub it and read ‘enaction’. At that moment, all the knowledge about enaction fills my body and mind.

I understand that enaction can be related to the 5 learning theories: cognitivism, behaviourism, constructivism, socio-constructivism and connectivism.

It considers the human being as a unit, with no separation between body and mind, self and environment.

Thus learning, for example, is not only done by the brain but with the whole body, alive, with its own history and its own references, anchored in its environment.

I hear Domenico Masciotra’s voice adding: “Skills are only potential in the brain and the body is a puppet manipulated by brain skills.

The person acts and reacts in his daily life in a relevant and coherent way. They can understand the theoretical aspects and, conversely, move from theory to practice. [aside] In this respect, we can say that AFEST (Action de Formation En Situation de Travail) is an enactive modality.

Tomorrow, the person will have already evolved; his or her learning will be influenced by this.

No sooner do I open my eyes than I see a 2nde brick. I pick it up and read NOT. Here we go again…

Finally, this global vision of the learning human allows us to introduce the concept of Person-in-Action-in-Real-Situation (PIRS): the person lives in action (thinking, acting, being moved, etc.) and also develops through his or her action (and “develops” his or her world).

It is not easy to pick one particular example to illustrate this concept as they are all unique and involve different circumstances. I can tell you about the day when, as a young driver, I decided to drive on the pavement rather than overtake a truck parked in a narrow one-way lane. To get out of this situation, I needed, at the same time, to dispose of myself (to temper my anger, to come back to the present moment), to situate myself (analysis of the situation: is the truck going to leave?, a width of the passage between it and the pavement), to position myself (evaluation of the solutions) and to transform (I put on my indicator and went up to the pavement at a walk). These are 4 essential functions to illustrate the PAS concept .

To sum up:
Another approach → learner has a portfolio of low-functioning skills
Enactive approach + PAS concept → competent person.

Back to my story. “Wow! That’s a lot to take in.”
The forest opens in two, leaving me a passage. I continue on my way and arrive near the castle: the ASCAR method.

The castle

The ASCAR method is an enactive method related to teaching and training (Masciotra and Morel, 2011). Through its ASCAR flowchart, it allows for the design, and re-engineering of an existing training course, the monitoring and evaluation of a learner, the construction of a competency framework, etc.

If I go back to the beginning of the article with the flow of perfect training, the ASCAR flowchart would come just before the definition of the objectives when designing the training. It allows you to identify the key competencies of your training which will allow you to define your objectives in a more relevant way. It allows you to draw a picture of what a competent person (graduate) does from different points of view (columns) in such and such a profession for example.

But which way to go in the castle in this maze of stairs and corridors?

Read Domenico Masciotra’s publication with the example of driving (see link at the end of the article).

Choose your topic and reproduce the ASCAR matrix/organisation chart which has 5 columns: Actions, Situations, Knowledge, Attitudes and Resources. Here you go! This is where the acronym ASCAR comes from. The flowchart reflects the enaction and the concept of PAS (Person-in-Action-in-Situation) by taking the person as a whole.

And then ask an expert or yourself the questions that will allow you to list the following elements:

1) Actions that a competent person does (e.g. keeping a course, breaking). They can be grouped into categories (e.g. driving).

2) The situations that a competent person encounters and produces by his or her activity. E.g. driving in snowy weather

3) The necessary knowledge (given or that can be developed through practice). E.g.: the behaviour of a vehicle and the vehicle’s commands on slippery ground

4) Attitudes (and their intensity) that allow self-control through action. E.g.: calmness, breathing control.

5) Technological and social resources (including documentary resources). E.g.: an anti-skid device.

Once you are happy with the flowchart, you will go further to determine competence or competencies. One way to do this could be to get one competence per category of action. Ex: Driving.

But remember, competence must include all the columns: action, situation, knowledge, attitude, and resource. To do this, and because you need to think about your training organisation around objectives, flow and activities, you will need to express it as a component. Example of a component skill from the publication: “… the driver must be able to drive competently, i.e. operate with knowledge and self-control at all times to be able to manoeuvre the car efficiently and share the road safely and responsibly with other road users.”

This is a sure way to “make” a competent person who will perform his or her duties in his or her job efficiently and effectively. At the end of the course, the learner will no longer be a novice with a novice attitude: he or she will adopt a competent attitude. They will have to continue in this process to develop an efficient or even expert action.

Continuation of your quest

Now you recognise the path: you define the objectives of your training based on the skills.

Yes! There is still a long way to go and many obstacles to overcome before reaching the coveted treasure: the positive impact of your training on the daily lives of learners and therefore on organisations.

Having put this method into practice on a few occasions, I have made some observations:

  • It allowed me to select the most important things for the learners even better
  • It provides a better evaluation grid for measuring post-training skills
  • It fits well with Cathy Moore’s action mapping process.
  • It supports at least the ADDIE and SAM (nv. 1) project management models
  • The ASCAR matrix allows you to have ideas in advance for additional relevant content for extensions to your training


You are only discovering enaction and the ASCAR method today when you have already designed, created, etc. I am only 11 months ahead of you and I am far from knowing it, mastering it and evaluating the impact it has on improving results in the field, post-training. I thank good fortune for putting them in my path when I was wondering how to make learners more competent in training.

I have only translated my understanding here. That is why I hope I have given you the desire to go and dig into the subject with experts. I particularly recommend these publications:

– Masciotra. Competence: between knowing how to act and acting. Enaction perspective 2017 (example treated: swimming)

– Masciotra. The ASCAR competence: an approach to conceptualise and identify competences in the perspective of enaction 2015 (example treated: driving) 

– Guy Le Boterf (PCA pioneer). Acting as a competent and ethical professional. Stop the “all skills” 2017

– Masciotra. Developing knowledgeable action, theory and method. From the competency-based approach to an enaction approach 2022 Ascar Inc.