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Making Training Stick, by Cathy Bolger, PhD
"Learning has not taken place until behavior has changed."

-Bob Pike, Creative Training Techniques

Learning professionals have become very proficient at making the learning event successful. However, once our trainees return to their jobs, the follow up becomes challenging. In addition, we often don't know what sticks and gets applied.

Indeed, according to research done by Brent Peterson, while director of research at FranklinCovey, 50% of the ultimate effectiveness of a learning effort comes from effective follow up. Yet, most learning professionals focus a small percent of effort and funding on follow up to training.

What can learning do as part of follow up to training efforts? To help ensure successful follow up to training, my colleague Leslie Smith involves the managers of the participants in her classes. She encourages the managers to become partners in the training process to encourage and reinforce the learning. She recommends a five-minute "before" conversation and a 5-minute "after" conversation between manager and attendee. She assures these managers that they don't have to be subject matter experts in the topic presented to have a short and meaningful discussion before and after training.

For instance, one of the questions Leslie suggests that managers ask before training is, "What are a couple things you hope to learn more about?" Leslie also provides sample questions for the "after" conversation such as:

  • What did you learn about the topic?
  • How can you apply what you learned?
  • What obstacles might you encounter
  • How can I (the manager) support you?
Then, she encourages managers to notice when the trainee is trying or using new skills and provide feedback and encouragement.

Sometimes trainees are unclear about what they are to do when they return to work. They may have given the training high ratings, but a fuzziness about next steps may still exist. I have recently trained a few of the FranklinCovey leadership modules. At the end of the four-hour training, the participants are asked to participate in the "21-day challenge." Next steps are clearly spelled out, and participants pair up with an "accountability partner." They exchange contact information and agree to check back with each other to report on the success in taking these next steps after training. In addition, the trainee is encouraged to report on progress to the manager within three months.

In addition to making next steps specific and clear, encouraging partner accountability, and manager discussion, learning professionals can to do the following to reinforce learning:

  • Email reminders listing key points from the training
  • Reference related web sites
  • Phone coaching follow up
  • Link to mentors
  • Send relevant articles
With more emphasis placed on follow up to training, learning professionals will greatly increase the likelihood of training transferring back to the work place.

Zenger, Jack, Joe Folkman and Robert Sherwin. The Promise of Phase 3, T+D. January, 2006.

Cathy Bolger is a San Diego-based trainer, specializing in Presentation, Meeting and Conflict Management Skills. She can be reached at cathy@cathybolger.com or 619-294-2511.

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