Making training stick with positive expectations

February 12, 2014

Training transfer studies have consistently found that participants’ positive expectations – or not having negative expectations – have an impact on whether they apply their learning.  Now we have some proof that participants’ expectations can be influenced by other people such as their trainer and their manager.

Neuroscientists devised an experiment where they manipulated positive and negative expectations of students while their brains were scanned and then tested their performance on cognitive tasks.  To induce expectations of success they were primed with positive or negative descriptors just before asking them to perform a test.  When they were primed with positive words, they performed better than when primed with negative words.  Even more interesting, they responded differently to mistakes depending on whether they had been primed with the positive or the negative terms.  When the mistake followed positive words, the region of the brain involved with self-reflection and recollection was engaged.  When they were primed with negative words there as no heightened activity after the wrong answer.  It appears that when primed with negative descriptors their brains expected to do poorly (“self-fulfilling prophecy”) and did not show signs of surprise or conflict when an error was made.  However, when primed with positive descriptors, their brains reflected on what they did wrong and, presumably, worked to figure out how they could have done better.

What can we do to increase positive expectations so participants have better transfer of training to their jobs?

  • Communicate with trainees’ managers prior to the training.  Ask them to communicate with their employee and provide talking points about the reason for the training, how they will apply it to their jobs AND to express their positive expectations with words and phrases (descriptors) such as “I know you will pick it up”…and “a sharp person like you”….etc.
  • In the class announcement, registration confirmation, and other pre-class communications, include “can do” encouraging messages with positive descriptors such as “our talented employees”…..”you clever participants”….”quick, knowledgeable”…etc.
  • Pair each trainee up with a buddy.  As an introductory activity either before or during training, have the buddies spend a few minutes getting to know one another.  Then ask each in turn to share 3 positive adjectives or descriptors about the other.
  • As an initial activity whether live or self-paced, ask the participant to think about a time when they were successful at something – at work or personally.  Instruct them to think about how they felt at that time and to come up with 3 positive adjectives or descriptors about themselves.  This could be recorded in the notes section of an elearning program or typed into the chat of a live virtual session.
  • At the beginning of live training, in introductions or early in the training, the instructor should make an active effort to use positive descriptors for class members individually and/or as a group using phrases such as “you are a bright group of trainees”…”brilliant idea”…”I can see we have a class of excellent performers.”

By priming participants in these ways, we can increase their positive expectations and help to make their learning stick.
Until next time,


**Read my white paper on new training transfer technologies!
Barbara Carnes, Ph.D.
Carnes and Associates, Inc.
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Generational Differences in Making Training Stick

December 9, 2013

I’m often asked if there is any research on generational differences related to making training stick.  In other words, do certain transfer strategies and techniques “work better” with Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y?

There isn’t any research that I’m aware of (and I think I would be, if there were) that links training transfer strategies and techniques with different generations.  There is, however, some interesting research on generational differences that we can use as we consider ways to increase training transfer.  Keep in mind as you read below that we need to be careful to avoid over-generalizing, and a person’s birth year is only one of many characteristics that describe an individual.

Most of us are familiar with the characteristics of generational groups.  For interesting articles and background information on this, here are some helpful articles:

Baby Boomers and Making Training Stick.  In a study of European managers, researchers found that organizational commitment is significantly higher among older generations – Traditionalists and Baby Boomers (although there are not many Traditionalists that remain in the workforce these days).  Organizational commitment is one of the characteristics that training transfer research has linked with higher rates of transfer, and is in the Training Transfer Process model I propose in my book,Making Learning Stick. This commitment to the organization suggests that Boomers are more inclined to want to transfer learning to their jobs because of their commitment to the organization, so we just need to make the connection for them.

Another characteristic of Boomers is that they tend to prefer the structure of a formal classroom, whether face-to-face or virtual.  Transfer strategies should involve completing and returning forms such as pre-work assessments, action plans, and post-training assignments and discussions.  While many Boomers are comfortable and highly skilled with computers and the internet, others are not.  Consider whether to use digital, hard copy, or both versions of the tools.

Value of Learning and Gen X/Gen Y.   In the study of European managers I mentioned earlier, researchers found that younger generations (late Gen X and Gen Y) tend to place a higher value on learning than older generations do.  This is indeed good news and may well be an indication that these younger learners are more self-motivated to participate in learning and maybe also more self-motivated to apply it.  Other research and information about generational differences poins to the fact that while both Gen X and Gen Y tend to place a high value on learning (higher than their older cohorts), they tend to differ in the types of learning they prefer.  This is probably also true for the types of transfer strategies that surround the learning.

Generation Xers and Making Training Stick.  Gen Xers value personal interaction such as coaching and mentoring.  Training transfer strategies that capitalize on the trainee’s manager and post-training follow up with the instructor are likely to be most effective with this group.  While they may participate in e-learning to learn key concepts, you should see the best training transfer with pre- and post-training in-person and/or virtual discussions on Facebook-type portals, coaching, mentoring, and other interactions with their manager, with peers, and with their instructor.

Generational Y and Making Training Stick.  As digital natives, members of this generation are most comfortable with virtual learning – formal and informal.  Transfer strategies that may be most effective with this group might include e-learning modules, program-specific websites, collaborative wikis, threaded discussions, just-in-time expert systems, and Twitter-type reinforcers and reminders, all that can be accessed 24/7, as needed.

Keep these generational differences in mind along with generational mix of your participants as you develop multiple techniques and strategies for making the training that you do, stick.

Until next time…





Upcoming events:   Training Mag webinar Technology Tools To Make Training Stick, January 8 Register here

Sheldon Teaches Penny Physics (Big Bang Theory)

November 6, 2013

I enjoy the TV sitcom Big Bang Theory.  Apparently a lot of other people do too because reruns seem to appear often - on several channels in different time slots.  Recently I saw a segment where Sheldon teaches – or tries to teach – Penny physics.  His teaching is a great example of how not to engage a learner as well as many other mistakes some instructors make.

The six-minute version on YouTube provides an opportunity to apply the before-during-after time periods related to transfer and also to apply some of my Training Transfer Process model.

Click here to watch the excerpt of the episode.  While you’re watching I hope you’ll think about what Sheldon should have done differently and what he could have done before and after the session with Penny that might have helped her apply her learning.

When you’ve finished viewing, read my comments about how Sheldon could have applied aspects of my Training Transfer Process….and share your comments too.


Until next time….


Transfer of training technologies

September 30, 2013

I have to confess that even though I’m passionate about making training stick and I know that actions I take before and after I conduct training will make a difference, like most of you sometimes I get caught up in the next course design or facilitation and (gulp) I forget about trainees in the classes I’ve finished, or the ones I am going to be doing soon.

This is why I’m very excited about several new technologies that have recently become available to help trainers reach out and connect with trainees before and after training to reinforce the learning and boost on-the-job application.

I began drafting a Sticky Note about these new technologies but I soon realized that there was too much information to share in a short newsletter.  So I wrote a white paper.  This white paper describes how each technology works and also provides suggestions for using each technology to create before- and after-training transfer techniques based on my research.  I met with representatives of the companies at trade shows (most of them were at ASTD’s International Conference and Expo), I participated in a demo at a later date, I visited their websites, and I asked each of them to review the white paper for accuracy. I do not own or have any financial interest in any of these technologies.  While I plan to try and use them as opportunities arise,I report objectively on each of these technologies.

These new tools make it easy to provide before- and after-training touch points because messaging and interactions can be designed and developed during design and delivery when it is top of mind for the trainer, while the messaging and interactions can be delivered at points when they will be most effective for the trainees, which is before and after participation in live training and/or self-paced elearning.

The technologies:

  • Raptivity.  High tech interactive templates for content reinforcement and application scenarios that can be inserted into most live training applications such as PowerPoint and into elearning platforms such as Articulate and Captivate.  New white paper on use for elearning.
  • We Achieve.  Cloud-based crowdsourcing application that can be used before and after training to engage and motivate learners and to build community.  New article in Training Magazine.
  • Mindsetter.  Delivers before- and after-training text, video, and quiz content via email to reinforce learning and provide additional content and application ideas.
  • Mindmarker.  Delivers training reinforcers and application suggestions – text, audio, and video files – via email and/or an app.  Tracks participation and other metrics.
  • ResultsEngine.  Cloud-based tracking and support for end-of-training goals and action plans.  Interactive assistance includes coaching requests, suggestions for revising goals, and detailed accountability and tracking.

Keep in mind that with each of these technologies it’s important to have well-written training objectives that specify end-of-class skills and behaviors and sticky objectives that specify on the job application of them.  Without these, no technology is going to be effective in helping to make training stick®.

Training Transfer Technologies - Free White Paper

Click here to download the white paper.

Until next time…..


Teach Them How to Learn, and Make it Stick Better

July 31, 2013

As face-to-face training times continue to be reduced and the use of virtual learning increases in almost all organizations, it is becoming increasingly important for trainees to “know how to learn”.  Whether the topic is supervisory skills, safety training, harassment prevention, sales training, customer service, software, or any other type of training, studies show that learners who know how to learn have higher test scores.  Higher test scores are indicators of better learning.  Better learning is a precursor to better application and transfer.

This knowing how to learn, known as metacognitive skills, can take many forms including setting goals for learning, self-regulating, planning learning time, knowing how to take tests, and knowing how to take in and process learning content.  Students who receive as little as a half hour of training on metacognitive processes have been found to outperform students who do not receive this training.

Here are a few thoughts and ideas to increase the metacognitive, “knowing how to learn” skills for your trainees, whether in face-to-face classes, live virtual training, or e-learning:

  • Develop a stand-alone module on learning skills.  This module can then be part of an onboarding process or it could be pre-work for other classes.  Such a module would include how to set individual learning goals, how to take notes and absorb key points in learning content, understanding one’s learning style and how to use it most effectively, and how to take quizzes and tests.  To develop this content, search on terms such as learn how to learn, metacognitive skills, and metacognition.
  • Insert “pop-up reflections” throughout face-to-face, live virtual training, and e-learning courses.  These pop-up reflections periodically interrupt content delivery, posing questions such as
    • Am I concentrating on this training material?
    • Do I understand all of the key points?
    • What are the key points of this training material?
    •  What do I need to do, what notes should I be taking, to remember this material?
  • At the end of a section of learning content, ask learners to write the 3 most important ideas, steps, or things to remember in this section.  Once they have done this, reveal the correct answer: the 3 ideas, steps, or things that they should have identified.  Note:  3 is the number of ideas and key points that people are able to remember most easily.  The learning content may, of course, require some variation here but try to keep the key points and steps to a minimum.  With increased use of this simple technique, trainees’ skills at identifying key ideas will improve.
  • Quiz participants – formally or informally – on the learning content at the end of each section and use an overall quiz/exam for the entire class.  Provide the correct answer immediately after each question.  After each quiz, provide quiz reflection questions on a notesheet that prompts the trainee to think about the mistakes they made and to plan their learning strategies for the next section, module, or class.

Before the next quiz, ask participants to review their responses to their last post-quiz reflection and to keep these in mind as they take this quiz.

With repeated use of these techniques, participants’ ability to absorb learning content will increase.  And if they learn it better, they should be better able to apply it.

Until next time….


P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining

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Your LMS – A Great Sticky Tool

April 29, 2013

Your learning management system (LMS) is a great administrative tool for course registration, student tracking, and end-of-course evaluation.   Are you using it to drive and support better transfer of training?

In addition to administrative tasks, an LMS can deliver training content (e-learning and live virtual classes), communicate with students and their supervisors, support collaboration and trainee interaction, and support performance management.  This latest trend performance management feature in many LMSs allows development plans in the employee’s performance review to be linked with available classes (internally and externally), and tracked.

How can an LMS drive and support better transfer of training?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Use the email feature to automatically send a pre-training note to students at a prescribed time prior to training (probably no earlier than one week).  The note should summarize what they will learn in the training and how they are expected to use it in their jobs. This note should also remind them to expect to give their full attention to the training with limited access to emails, IMs, and text messaging.  This last point is especially important for students who will be taking e-learning or live virtual learning classes.
  • Use the email feature to automatically send a pre-training note to students’ supervisors. The note should also summarize in appropriate detail, what the participant will learn and how it can be applied to their job.  In addition to reminding the supervisor to plan for adequate coverage during the time the participant is in training, this email should also ask supervisors to plan for skill practice/use as soon as the participant completes the training.
  • Add a short video to these emails from the CEO, senior leader, or other influential manager describing the importance of the training and how the skills support the organization’s mission, goals, and objectives.  Don’t stop at one – use several video clips to drive this message home.  Desktop web cams make these videos easy and affordable.  If you’re not sure where to house the video (that is, where the link will go), many organizations are using YouTube for non-confidential employee messages.  Non-public links can be set up so these videos aren’t available to other YouTube visitors.
  • Use the social media and collaboration tools available in many LMSs to promote or require trainee interaction before and after the class.  Studies show that when trainees interact with one another about their learning, they have higher levels of learning and transfer of training.  Specifically, set up a discussion board prior to face-to-face, e-learning, or live virtual learning.  Pose questions such as “What has been your biggest challenge with______?”, “How do you think having ____ skills will enhance your ability to do your job?  To advance in your career?”  Use the same sort of discussion board for post-training discussion and include questions such as “What has been your biggest challenge in applying ____?”   Consider other social media and collaboration tools such as Yammer and a wiki, where everyone contributes to FAQs and tips/pointers for using the skills.
  • Use the LMS survey tool to find out how skills are being used 6 weeks and 3 months post-training.  Consider withholding credit for the class until this survey is completed.  Share results with participants’ supervisors.  Send a separate survey to participants’ supervisors to get their assessment of skill use.

Your organization doesn’t have an LMS?  These ideas can be implemented manually with just a bit of oversight from an administrator.  Set up class mailing lists in the email application, store email notes and video clips/links for quick insertion and re-use, set up discussion boards through a free service such as Blackboard or a password-protected Facebook group.

Until next time…..


PS Check out our current special – order the Three Book Bundle at at a great price through May 29th!

Effective trainers help make training stick.

March 21, 2013

Most research on training transfer has focused on strategies to increase transfer of training such as: instructional design strategies, content reinforcement, manager/peer support before and after, opportunity to use, and trainee accountability.  All of these are certainly important strategies to increase transfer of training.  But one thing has been mostly missing from almost all research and models on training transfer– and this has always puzzled me: the interpersonal dynamics of the trainer and participants.

…Mostly missing until now that is. A recent study by Paul Donovan and David Darcy reported in the International Journal of Training and Development found that in addition to the usual factors that support high levels of training transfer, their survey of participants identified trainer effectiveness as having a strong link to transfer of training.  Participants responded positively to statements about trainer preparation, enthusiasm, commitment to training goals, relating training to participant job needs, and providing good feedback.  Participants also responded positively to statements about participants working well together in the training and engaging in free and useful information exchange. 

In my dissertation research some 15 years ago I found links between transfer of training and the trainer interacting with individual participants, modeling skills being taught, demonstrating empathy, and appearing “genuine” and competent. 

With this research in mind, here are reminders for trainer actions in face-to-face and live virtual training that research shows will help make the training stick well.  Which 1-2 things do you see that you can to do more/better?

  • Prepare well.  Don’t skimp on prep time or try to fake it.  It shows, participants notice, and it can affect how well they apply what they learn as well as how well they learn it.
  • Be enthusiastic about the learning content. If you don’t feel enthusiastic, fake it.  Consider using caffeine or energy boosters to help.
  • Commit to the goals of the training – not just the learning goals but the overall reason for the training.  Show your commitment by making sure you communicate the link between your organization’s strategic mission/goals/plan and the training.
  • Be sure you understand the job role of each participant in the training and how the training can be applied in their job.  Do your homework ahead of time on this if necessary.  If this isn’t possible, at the beginning of the training discuss with participants how the training can be applied to each specific job.
  • Provide specific, relevant feedback to each participant.  Don’t use practice time to take a break.  Walk around, observe each individual participant, and provide feedbackon their practice.  Be available to answer questions during this time.  Talk with individual participants during practice time and/or on breaks.    
  • Make sure you model skills being taught. This is an especially critical factor for soft skills training.  More than once I’ve had trainees comment to me about a particular trainer who was teaching participative management, active listening, consultative selling, or similar collaborative skills but the trainer was directive and unreceptive to participant questions and input.
  • Empathize with participants.  If you have had a job similar to theirs, let them know this andshare a few “war stories”.  If you haven’t had a job like theirs, get input from people with similar job titles prior to the training and use what you learn in these conversations to relate with participants. 
  • Demonstrate self-confidence - verbally and non-verbally - in your ability to teach the class and to perform the skills.

Until next time…..



Should you get certified?

February 4, 2013

I’m just back from ASTD’s TechKnowledge conference in San Jose – great conference and I’m pleased to say that my session on Making E-learning Stick was well received.  I found a couple of great new training transfer resources that I’ll share in a future newsletter, but in this newsletter I want to respond to a question that several trainers at the conference asked me:

Should I get certified?

Elearning! magazine did a survey last year on this topic and here are the results:

  • 89% of the HR and Learning and Development professionals surveyed said that a certification was important during the hiring process, and 92% said if two candidates had equivalent experience they would hire the person with a certification.
  • 93% said that an individual with a certification credential would earn more money.
  • 93% said it was important for a certification credential to be “portable”….that is, not industry-specific, so it would be useful to them regardless of industry or specific company.

That’s pretty impressive!

The next question of course is which certification is best?  This of course depends on your specific goals.  The ASTD CPLP certification is a rigorous, multi-faceted experience that includes study materials and requires testing as well as submission of work samples.  The cost depends on whether or not you are a member of ASTD National.

Kirpatrick Partners offer several levels – bronze, silver, and gold – certification in their evaluation ROE process.  

The Making E-learning Stick™ certification is the only certification for the transfer of technology-supported training.

Interestingly, few certifications except Making E-Learning Stick™ in the learning and development field address learning transfer!

What’s the difference between certification and a certificate program?  Certification is a demonstration of knowledge and competence.  The participant needs to demonstrate in some way – test, work sample, implementation plan, etc. – their learning.  On the other hand, a certificate simply indicates you have taken the class or series of classes.  If you want the career advantages mentioned in the survey, get certified, don’t just take a certificate program.

Over 900 people signed up for my ASTD webinar on Making E-Learning Stick last month.  This is a good indication that there’s a lot of interest in learning transfer, including but not limited to the transfer of technology-supported training.  Leaders in organizations focus on results, and the learning and development or HR professional who can show through a certification that they understand how to transfer training into business results, will likely get the nod when it comes to promotion, choice assignments, and new jobs.

Shouldn’t you get certified?

Until next time…..


Santa Makes His E-Learning Stick

December 14, 2012


Once upon a time at the North Pole, Santa was having challenges managing the elves.  His authoritative leadership style wasn’t working as well as it had in the past.  He knew he needed to learn new management skills but he couldn’t just get in his sleigh and go to a leadership workshop.  His magic sleigh only operates on Christmas Eve, and besides he couldn’t leave his workshop to go to a training program.

Santa did some browser searches and signed up for e-learning courses on Situational Elf Leadership and Managing Special Workers.  Mrs. Claus got interested in e-learning too, and she found e-learning courses on Healthy Cookie Baking (she and Santa are trying to eat healthy and get their weight down) and Using Electronic Kitchen Appliances at the North Magnetic Pole.

Santa and Mrs. Claus signed into their e-learning courses regularly.  Santa learned about new techniques and strategies for managing the elves.  Mrs. Claus got recipes and learned how to bake cookies with less fat and sugar, and how to use her food processor in the single magnetic field at the North Pole.   They both passed the end-of-module quizzes, and received certificates when they completed courses.

But the elves still complained that Santa was micromanaging them and not allowing them to participate in toy-making decisions.  And Mrs. Claus still found herself over-dipping into the sugar and chopping nuts and raisins by hand instead of using her food processor.

Their e-learning didn’t stick!   What to do?  They searched the internet for help and found a copy of the book Making E-Learning Stick.  They learned some Techniques to Integrate Education (TIEs) for reinforcing their own learning.  They also found some techniques Rudolph could use to design e-learning for the elves.  In just a short time Santa and Mrs. Claus began using what they had learned.  The elves were happier and more productive, and Santa and Mrs. Claus enjoyed better, healthier cooking.

And they learned happily ever after!

My best wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season and a happy and prosperous New Year!

**Click here to read last year’s message on how Rudolph re-trained the elves.

Until next time…..




P.S. Just Announced: Making E-Learning Stick Certification Course Dates for Spring 2013

After Training: The Zeigarnik Effect

November 19, 2012

I often use follow-up activities after the training I conduct.   Most often I find I have to force myself to get this done.  I’m ready to move on to the next project, to design the next training, to write the next newsletter.  Many trainers tell me the same thing.  They are ready to move on rather than follow up with previous training.

I recently conducted training on storytelling for trainers.  At the end of the training, I assigned “homework” to develop a short story or illustration and then schedule an individual phone call with me to review/practice the story and to receive my feedback.  I waited for the calls so I could listen to each person’s story.  And waited…and waited.  Nobody got in touch with me to set up the phone call until I sent a reminder, and in many cases, more than one reminder.

Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik developed a theory which became known as the Zeigarnik Effect that explains my experience. I suspect I’m not the only trainer who has experienced lack of participation in follow-up activities.  Briefly, the Ziegarnik Effect is based on the fact that when people get closure on a topic, it’s not likely to be top of mind any more.  Likewise, people are more likely to remember what they have not gotten closure on.   So when, in the learning event, the learning points are summarized and other closing activities are present, the ZeigarnikEffect indicates that these closing/closure activities actually make it harder for participants to remember and use what they have learned once they get back on the job.  The Zeigarnik Effect also explains why most trainers are not motivated to follow up after a learning event.

What to do?  Here are a few suggestions for incorporating the Zeigarnik Effect:

  • Provide shortened, not detailed explanations for some of the learning.  Post the complete explanation on a static source, such as a webpage, which participants can refer to during the class and later.
  • If an action plan or after-training checklist is to be developed, ask trainees to provide 1-2 items for it and stop them before they can do more.
  • Use a stopwatch or clock timer on your phone to help force you to stop before participants are finished.
  • When providing learning points or a list in the training, provide only the first few and let participants know where and when the rest will be provided. This is a good use for Facebook-types of social media, or, emails will work too. Most LMS systems can be set up to send after-training prompts and reminders automatically.

These suggestions are the opposite of many best practices for designing and conducting learning events.  But maybe if we try to do more of the above, we might find that trainees will more readily remember and use what they have learned.  And maybe trainers (myself included) will be more motivated to follow up with trainees afterwards.

While I have known about the Zeigarnik Effect for some time and have used the above suggestions from time to time, I must admit that it is not easy to break lifelong habits.  I’m going to try to do more of this.  Maybe you will too.

Until next time…..



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