Purpose Laddering: The Four Whys
Why do you do what you do? Research shows the more you personally identify with the purpose of a task, the more determined you’ll be to see it through.

Drill down even further and you might find new meaning in the smallest of tasks — and in your everyday work.

So how can we teach students this lifelong skill? Professor Dan Cable with the Learning Innovation team built a digital activity to do just that. This online activity, which replaces one of the face-to-face sessions, adds a new dimension to the blended learning experience.

Faculty Profile
Dan Cable
Professor of Organisational Behaviour

The Aim

Creating a personal presence is vital in a blended learning environment. We want to engage students online and offline and make them feel connected wherever they may be. In this case Professor Dan Cable effectively uses video to engage directly with his students, adding another personal touch point in the overall course experience. He presents his lesson in an authentic voice, in a friendly manner. You almost feel like you’re sitting in the front row of his classroom.

This online learning experiment was designed to replace one of the face-to-face sessions in an elective course. In an effort to add more flexible options to the blended-learning mix, we explore a range of digital tools, formats and styles for each project.

This particular module is well suited to online video, as it mainly involves individual work like self-reflection. Students are challenged to explore, internalise and reflect on the purpose of their jobs, using their own calendars for reference. Planned as an asynchronous activity, the task involves completing initial reflections individually and then arranging a meeting with a peer to get feedback on reflect further.

The Approach

The “talking head” format is used in five white-screen video segments. Colorful graphics and animations illustrate concepts as well as the step-by-step process and tasks. Prof. Cable presents compelling questions, speaking directly to students, and keeps them on task. “I want you to try to be really honest with the story that you’re telling yourself,” he tells them, and you get the sense that students see him as a real person, not just a talking head.

The content is broken down into a series of tasks that provide a framework for students to explore during an activity. In between video segments, students engage in assigned tasks on their own or with a peer. Upon completion, students [or faculty?] download their response summaries and submit them to Canvas.

Filming against a white backdrop is an increasingly popular a way to incorporate video within higher ed. At LBS we’ve used this approach in a number of projects for both Executive Education and Degree programmes. What are the benefits of white screen? There’s a consistent look over multiple videos, and plenty of clean space for adding eye-catching graphics and animations in post-production to help re-enforce important content. Plus there’s no need to spend time finding suitable shoot locations on campus.

Drawbacks or considerations? White-screen filming requires good lighting and post-production work, so be sure to factor this into the production schedule and budget.

The Outcome

Here you’ll see examples of Prof. Dan Cable’s “Four Whys” process illustrated through a series of five white-screen videos, with the help of colorful animations. Cable introduces the concept of Purpose Laddering and then guides students through the Four Whys process, prompting them to question their assumptions, self-reflect and later collaborate.

Hosted on Canvas, the finished project is available to view online. The five-segment format makes it easy for students to go back and find key points if they want to review instructions or explanations in the videos. Ten or so minutes of content is much easier to navigate when broken down into manageable chunks.

The Impact

  • Students are spurred to engage in higher level thinking. They learn to shift their focus from the behavioural (what they're doing) to the conceptual (why they're doing it).
  • By thinking more deeply about the purpose of their work, students gain more tenacity and resilience when approaching specific tasks and responsibilities.
  • Through hands-on exercises and peer-to-peer collaboration, students practice and internalise this process - increasing the chances that the learning will stick


  • Be yourself. Remember you’re talking to students, not faculty (or the Digital Learning team).
  • Write down a few bullet points and then just talk to the camera. Think of your script as a cue card. Don’t read it (or memorize it and repeat it verbatim), or you’ll sound too formal.
  • Use hand gestures, smile, be expressive. It’s more noticeable if you’re standing still and not moving around. It’s easier for us to tone it down than dial it up!
  • Think of ideas for useful graphics or animations to help illustrate your words. We’ll take your ideas and run with them or will happily brainstorm with you to come up with just the right thing.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash