What Trainers, Not E-learning Experts (Yet), Can Learn From HBO’s “Westworld”

Please, pay attention to this scene from Westworld.

If you’re designing e-learning, pay doubly attention.

Whoa! Sorry. Let me back up.

Westworld. It’s an HBO series I’m watching.

And, so far, it’s FANTASTIC.

Simply put, it’s a science fiction thriller; the brainchild of the late Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park). Crichton wrote and directed the original film back in ‘73.

Today, Westworld has a fresh, modern look—and HBO has a vehicle to cash in on our Artificial Intelligence hysteria.

Haven’t seen it?

Well, think of it as, The Matrix meets The Truman Show meets Blade Runner meets Ex Machina meets Jurassic Park… and then, meets Deadwood

…It’s a western theme park hosted by humanoid robots with artificial intelligence (AI).

Got it? Good!

Let’s get this train back on the track.


For this article to work (and for me to get my point across), I want you to think of Westworld as an e-learning project.

Stay with me friend.

E-learning and Westworld have a lot in common.

You see, at its core, Westworld is a technology project.

And, like good e-learning, Westworld relies on context, decisions and consequences.

Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Dr. Robert Ford, the creative director of Westworld is kinda like an instructional designer. Mind you, a creepy instructional designer.

Context, interest, interactivity and guest engagement are important to Dr. Ford, like learner (employee) engagement is important to you.

Now, there’s a scene at the end of episode two that stands out:

Lee Sizemore, Westworld’s narrative director, played by Simon Quarterman, is presenting a new project.


It’s a big deal. Because Westworld is always iterating; looking to improve on previous versions and experiences. (Again, like good e-learning.)

Read Sizemore’s speech below, and consider your project, or examples you’ve seen.

“Now, I don’t want to appear immodest, but this is the APEX of what the park could provide – horror, romance, titillation. Our most skilled guests will fight their ways to the outer limits of the park, besting fearsome braves, seducing nubile maidens, befriending tragically ill-fated sidekicks, and, of course, like all our best narratives over the years, our guests will have the privilege of getting to know the character they’re most interested in: Themselves.

I present our guests’ next obsession: Odyssey on Red River.”

Does Sizemore’s grandiose vision sound interesting and interactive?

Sure does!

(Many corporate e-learning projects start with the same bravado.)

However, before the cheers and applause build momentum, you hear,…



No, I don’t think so.”

And, just like that, Dr. Ford, our Westworld instructional designer, silences the room.

Listen to Ford describe Sizemore’s project goals:

“What is the point of it? Get a couple of cheap thrills? Some surprises? But it’s not enough.

It’s not about giving the guests what you think they want.

No, that’s simple.

The titillation, horror, elation — they’re parlor tricks. The guests don’t return for the obvious things we do, the garish things.

They come back because of the subtleties, the details.


They’re not looking for a story that tells them who they are. They already know who they are. They’re here because they want a glimpse of who they could be.”

Coaching for smarter, faster, innovation

Without expertise or guidance you don’t know if you’re relying on parlor tricks.

And, learning things the hard way in e-learning means wasting tens (or sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars on misguided development efforts. Worse, you hinder internal capacity.

In the scene above, guidance comes from Dr. Ford.

Ford has the strategic and tactical expertise to say, “No, I don’t think so. Do this instead.”

…and that’s what I’m here for.

Here’s what I mean. I recently finished an e-learning project for a German multinational, and I followed up with a project post mortem.

A question I asked was this:

What 2 or 3 things from this project would you want to teach to others or share for their benefit? This could be some opportunities discovered, an “ah ha!” moment, or a very simple thing that you think would make life better for someone in a similar situation as you were in when you started this project.

The sponsor, an Area Trainer, replied, and a particular “ah ha!” moment stood out:

“Making a user WANT to go through this rather than a cheesy video or training where they ‘have to’ go through this.”

The point is… e-learning… good e-learning… is based on authentic engagement and sound instructional design.

If you’re a trainer, not an e-learning expert (yet), you may not know what that means.

But, what if you did know?

What if you had an actionable plan that makes your employees WANT to go through your e-learning—and want to go through it again?

If you want to save months of time and wasted energy, please, check out our services.

Or, email me directly at ryan@elarnerengaged.com

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