Making Learning Programs Stick Like Glue

It’s all too common—you develop (or buy) a killer training program with solid learning objectives, a highly creative design, and multiple interactive activities to practice new skills. You feel certain that it will be successful. People even attend and give it glowing reviews on the evaluation forms. But then the unthinkable happens… when people go back to their jobs, they don’t use the skills taught in the learning program.

Has this ever happened to you? Chances are, you answered “yes” because training events are often thought to be the ultimate solution to changing employees’ behaviors. But it‘s very difficult to make learning stick when training exists in a vacuum. At Accelerated Business Results (ABR), we practice five key techniques to ensure that our learning programs stick like glue.

  1. Cement a project team that includes everyone who will be impacted by the learning program. This includes key business stakeholders, managers of people who will attend the program, people who already perform the skill well, subject matter experts, and the learning team. By bringing a team together from project conception, you lay the groundwork for success by building support for the program. The project team members become natural advocates because they were involved in the course design from the start.
  2. Develop a project plan. It might sound rudimentary, but effective planning maximizes the success of the program. Everyone on the project team has a role to play. Make sure you create a plan (especially for a large scale project) that details key milestones with dates, individual tasks that must be completed, and who will do what. This way, everybody knows firsthand what they are responsible for and by when. Most importantly, they understand the importance of their assignments to the overall project success.
  3. Wrap your company strategy around the learning program. To ensure success, the training goals must align to the company vision. Otherwise, what’s the point? When training shows a clear linkage to the goals of the organization, it becomes much easier to make the case for the investment. For example, if one of your company goals is to be the top service provider, then the learning program should include tactics around how to be the top service provider. Once you depict this linkage, your internal clients will listen with open ears because it not only shows that you understand their challenges and needs, but that you are providing ways to help them address them.
  4. Glue management support early. It’s important for supervisors and managers to be advocates for training efforts. Be sure to communicate information to managers about the new program, including expectations, timeframes, and topics. It’s often helpful to create a Manager’s Guide with specifics about the program and the tasks the manager should complete at each phase. The manager plays a critical role in ensuring that participants are given the right support to incorporate the learning into their job. This might include easing up on participants’ workloads while they are at training, providing practice opportunities on the job, and meeting with each participant at certain points in the training to check in on status.
  5. Incorporate sticky strategies into your learning design by providing structured tasks to complete before, during, and after the actual training event. Participants should meet with their managers prior to attending to the training to set expectations around how the key learnings will be applied. Sometimes it’s helpful to collaboratively create a behavior contract that spells out exactly what the participant and manager agree to do to maximize the results of the training. During the training, participants should be given new concepts with practice opportunities to apply them to realistic work-related tasks in the classroom. This should be followed immediately with opportunities outside the classroom where participants are paired up with a buddy or a mentor to see first-hand how the concepts are used on the job, and then given the chance to practice the new concepts on the job and provided with feedback. Once participants return to the job, they should meet with their managers to collaboratively create a 30-, 60-, and 90-day plan that spells out specific actions to complete and scheduled status check-ins.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you the next time you’re ready to develop (or buy) a learning program. What other tips do you have for making learning stick like glue?

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