After several decades working in adult and professional learning I’ve learned a few things my self. The following 12 tips can help you create meaningful and practical learning initiatives with messages that ‘stick’. Using these tips can truly create a transformational experience for the learner.

  1. Ensure the topic is relevant to the person’s job or life circumstances. Be able to answer the WIIFM question (What’s in it for me?) Associate learning to an identified skills or knowledge gap. Help them do their job better or more effectively or with less hassle and conflict. Validate the agenda with people. Even if you’ve consulted or been assured that everyone wants to learn facilitation skills, ask the group what they want to know, feel or be able to do at the end of the workshop. And be ready to be surprised.
  2. Select topics that can be immediately applied to the job. Start the process of planning for that in the workshop. Help future trainers design the agenda of their next course, or help facilitators plan and prepare for a future facilitation, and have learners use a real topic and event for presentation skills training.
  3. Help them enjoy the learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing in balls, chocolates, and fun games – although it might- it means help them use their preferred way of thinking, assimilating and expressing themselves. The affective side of learning can be as important if not more so than the cognitive domains of learning. Help establish a safe non-judgemental atmosphere. Make it easy to risk trying something without negative implications. Create social networks and groups within the big group so that introverts can feel safe and find their space, and extroverts can’t dominate all the discussions with their energy and effervescence.
  4. Value their experiencesand allow them to contribute their ideas and stories. Create space and time for reflection as well as sharing with others in pairs and in small groups. Select and design activities that allow space and time for introverts and enough contact, energy talking and laughing for the extroverts.
  5. Provide variety in a conscious, informed and planned way. Different people have different preferred learning styles. Understand and consciously employ cognitive and sensory opportunities in the learning, but don’t just sprinkle them about willy-nilly. (That’s British for anywhere & anyhow) Use stories, examples, data, analogies, metaphor, drawings, video. Decide if the topic is best introduced through an experiential sharing, or does it require a model to be introduced before the learners can practice or apply it?
  6. Allow choice. Where possible allow learners to determine themselves the best way of acquiring information – is it possible to allow some to quietly read about it, while others talk about and yet others might map out a diagram or road map of how to tackle it.
  7. Design in opportunities for success. Provide templates and models to guide practice sessions. Better still have the group come up with them. A good template for conducting a performance management conversation, or guidelines for dealing with an angry client, or the steps in providing excellent instructions, then allow people to practice in small safe groups and then review their performance according to the agreed steps in the guidelines. In some technical training you might want to do pre and post-testing. Try doing it anonymously or consolidated the scores to an average. Re do the test at the end and consolidate a second time. I’ve had scores go from 35% correct to 95% correct. It’s really not important who got what, but you can distribute the tests at the end so everyone can see their own scores.
  8. Link learning. The more you link, the more you learn. Link at the micro and macro levels. Create a red-thread through your workshops so that critical elements are connected through the sessions. If learners don’t make the connection point it out as you review and recap material. Also link key messages across organisational learning. In one organisation I used the same psychometric instrument in our induction programme then built on it in team building, negotiations, presentation skills and personal effectiveness and resilience. People began to really understand and apply the concept of understanding others thinking styles and having the flexibility to adapt to it or at least to take it into consideration in all communication with others.
  9. Use pre work and build on blended learning. If you ask people to read or to complete some sort of questionnaire for a learning event, use it. Refer to it and show the relevance. It’s not enough to suggest they do background reading. Increase the chances of them actually reading it by asking them to use a marker to highlight three ideas they really liked and thought could be relevant to the team/organisation/topic; and three they thought were not so relevant/applicable or could be improved. Follow up in some way. Provide learning aids to help focus on key messages and models. Capture any best practice tips or ‘learnings’ and provide them as ‘take-aways’ or follow up memos to learners. Offer post learning discussion groups, on-site or as teleconferencing.
  10. Use some form of learning contract. Keep it simple: What do you want to learn? How do you prefer to learn it? What will you do with it once you’ve learned it? How will you manager help you apply new skills and knowledge? Research indicates that learning retention and possible application increases simply by having a conversation with the reporting boss. Simply writing down commitments actually increases the likelihood of people following through with them.
  11. Consider cascading learning. If something is really important start at the top. Introduce managers, then their staff. This way everyone is using the same language when they come back from training courses. I’ve designed and run programmes where managers attended with staff (communication is both ways), where we’ve introduced training to top managers to set the example, and where I’ve first introduced managers to concepts such as effective team work before running the same workshop with the managers and their teams.
  12. Make sure the whole process is future oriented.What do you want to differently next time? Help people shift from where they are to where the want to, or have to get to. Set learning goals and expectations with the group at the outset, then remember to tick off each one as you work through your programme, and as a last action you do with them.

Whether you facilitate training sessions or select them for others in your organisation, these twelve tips should help you offer learning opportunities that improve attraction, retention, recall and application to the real world of work.

Making Learning Stick – design relevant and purposeful initiatives