One of the first closing activities I used was called a “letter to myself.” At the end of training, participants were asked to reflect on what they learned and how they were going to apply it, and to write a letter to themselves, complete with self-addressing an envelope. Then I picked up the envelopes, stashed them away for a few weeks, and mailed them back to their authors. I got a lot of positive feedback from people. One time when I took a workshop I participated in this activity and experienced first-hand how energizing and motivating it was to receive that letter with the reminders and encouragements I had written.
A recent experimental study has demonstrated what I’ve always believed: that this activity is more than a “nice to do”. Trainees in the study who participated in this type of activity had higher levels of self-efficacy (the belief that they could apply the skills they had learned) and they demonstrated application of their training.
Researchers Amanda Shantz and Gary Latham did a study on what they termed “written self-guidance”. Half of their trainees who participated in a soft skills training program participated in a “letter to self” type of activity in which they reflected on what they had learned and how they planned to apply it. Those who participated in the activity demonstrated significantly higher levels of application of the training than those participants who did not. This activity is not the same as having participants write a reflection paper, develop an action plan, or write a class summary because it requires trainees to write motivational letters directed to the self, and the participants at a later point in time receive a letter written by themselves, to themselves.
Here are some specific guidelines for using this activity in training you facilitate, develop, or administer:
- After a summary of the training content, ask participants to write a letter to themselves – “Dear Self” – in which they outline their key learnings and how they plan to apply what they learned.
- In the instructions, stress that they are the only ones who will see their letters – they will seal them before they leave the class.
- Ask them not to pay attention to or be concerned about grammar or spelling.
- Encourage participants to include self-affirming and comments that are relevant for them. Provide examples.
- As they finish, pass out blank mailing envelopes and ask them to write their full mailing address (interoffice, home address, etc.).
- Allow approximately 15 minutes for this activity. At the end of the time, collect the letters.
- Store them safely (remember, they’re confidential) in your office and tickler your calendar to mail them in 3 weeks. (The experiment used a 5 week interval but I’ve found that 3 weeks is better in today’s fast-paced work environments.)
- Mail them at the appointed time.
This activity can be adapted for live virtual or elearning in the following way:
- Ask participants to open their email system and type an email to themselves. Use the same instructions as above.
- Then ask them to save this email as a draft.
- Mark your calendar, and 3 weeks later get in touch with each participant (email, text, etc.) and ask them to open their drafts folder and read their letter to themselves.
**I hope to see many of you at Training Mag’s Online Learning Conference Sept 22-25!