Letter to Self – Easy closing activity that Makes Training Stick

June 30, 2014

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.

Click here to download a copy of the article that describes the details of this study.

 

**I hope to see many of you at Training Mag’s Online Learning Conference Sept 22-25!

Opportunity to Perform

May 1, 2014

I was forced to take an online class recently to learn skills that I will not need to use for at least three months.  A gun wasn’t placed at my head so maybe “forced” is a bit strong, but I certainly felt forced.  The situation was this:  a university for which I teach occasional online classes is in the process of changing over to a new technology platform.  The change-over schedule was announced and the area where I teach will be one of the last to implement the new technology, which will be several months away.  However, all instructors must take the five-day new technology orientation class now. Will I remember what I’ve learned when it is time to use it?  I doubt it.  Fortunately a lot of the instruction is via text documents that can be saved, so I have tucked them away in a digital file for future reference when needed.

Research has consistently shown that transfer is limited when trainees do not have the opportunity to perform, sometimes known as opportunity to practice, newly acquired skills.  In many studies, the opportunity to perform was rated as the highest form of support for learners, and the lack of opportunity to use training was rated as the biggest obstacle to transfer of the training.

Here are some suggestions and reminders to help support trainees’ opportunity to practice and perform newly learned skills:

  • Before training, communicate with trainees’ managers and ask them to plan time and assignments for when training is completed, so trainees can immediately try out their learning.  This communication can be auto-sent to managers at the same time class registration is confirmed.
  • During training, provide opportunities throughout the training – whether live training or self-paced elearning – for the trainee to plan when and how they will begin using what they are learning.  Encourage them to discuss this with their manager.
  • After training, send follow-up reinforcement messages to trainees reminding them to find opportunities to practice their new skills.
  • Training Transfer Technologies - Free White PaperFor certain types of training such as management or compliance training, follow up after training byemailing short “what if” scenarios and case studies and asking or requiring participants to respond.  Note:  several new training transfer technologies are well suited for such follow-up.  My Training Transfer Technologies white paper provides a n overview of them.  Request your free copy.
  • Prepare participants who aren’t able to practice or perform right away.  Provide a manual, short documents and/or web-based support tools for them to refer to when they have the opportunity and the need to use what they have learned.
  • Set up social media communities to provide support and learning at the moment of need.  Send periodic reminders to visit the communities to give and get assistance and advice.

Often there is not a choice as to when training is offered and when new skills can be practiced.  We should all do our best to try to reduce the time between training and performance.  And when it’s not possible to narrow the gap, provide support tools to narrow the gap.

Until next time…

Barbara

Let Learning Sink In – To Make it Stick

April 1, 2014

I’ve found some interesting cognitive psychology research that I think you’ll find interesting because it can be applied to making learning stick.

  • Have you ever wondered why new learning needs to “sink in”?
  • Did you know that students who study right before an exam don’t do as well as those who study at least several days ahead of time?
  • Would you like some ideas for maximizing training retention and transfer?

Read on -

Scientists have known for over a century that we have two types of memory, short-term and long-term, located in two different parts of the brain.  Short-term memory is converted into the more stable long-term memory, which is then be drawn upon to solve problems and make decisions.

The process works this way.  The information is first gathered in the learning event through the senses and is processed in the brain’s short-term memory, where it is related to existing information already stored in long-term memory.  From here the new information is transferred to long-term memory storage and it becomes encoded into neuron patterns.  New synapses (spaces between nerve endings) are then formed through protein synthesis.  This process is called long-term potentiation and was first demonstrated by Nobel-winning scientist Dr. Erik Kandel.  The important point here is that t takes a few weeks for the protein synthesis and new neuron patterns to form.    

This is why we often say something new needs to “sink in”, and why students who cram right before a test don’t do as well as students who study a few days ahead or even the night before.  And this is why we need to provide spaced learning, repetition, and/or practice to help learners retain and apply the learning whether it is face-to-face, live virtual, e-learning, or a combination of these.

Here are a few suggestions to help learning sink in and stand a better chance of being applied:

  • Divide the learning into at least two events, spaced at least 3-4 weeks apart.   For ease in scheduling, consider a live virtual (“webinar”) or e-learning format for one or more of these learning events.  The potentiation research indicates that the longer the spacing, the better the retention.  This of course needs to balanced against other things that compete for memory space – if the learning is spaced too far, the initial learning may be completely lost.
  • Do not test at the end of the class.  Instead use the test to follow up, no sooner than two weeks after the end of the learning event.  The research clearly shows that allowing some time before testing will result in better learning and retention.  And remember, the goal is not to pass the test… the goal is to retain the learning so it can be used. 
  • Require participation in learning communities – discussion boards, blogs, communities of practice – as part of the class.  Don’t award credit for the class until a required number of posts are made in the community.  This serves to reinforce the initial learning, provide application ideas, and aid the brain in connecting new, short-term memory learning with long-term prior learning so that it can be used.

And the next time you need to remember something yourself, keep in mind that your brain needs time to form new neuron patterns and protein synthesis.  Let some time pass and then revisit the information.

Until next time….

Barbara

 

 

 

P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining

Using Photos to Make Training Stick

March 1, 2014

I recently ran across an interesting article in HR Magazine that brought back memories of research I did quite some time ago on subconscious influence.  Sometimes called subliminal programming, certain words, sounds, and/or pictures are introduced as a way of influencing the receiver’s subconscious mind.  Dr. Gary Latham, who has also conducted research on training transfer, and his research partner at the University of Toronto, Amanda Shantz, recently conducted some new studies on subconsciously influencing employee behaviors.  Skeptical at first, they were nonetheless impressed by studies in which groups of participants were left to browse dieting and exercise magazines.  Later, when offered fruit or chocolate as a snack, participants in that group were more likely than other participants to choose fruit.  Fruit instead of chocoloate?  Hard to believe!

Latham and Shantz then conducted three experiments in call centers.  In each case, the employees were given written instructions on how to urge donors to contribute to a university.  Half of them received the instructions printed over a color background photo of a woman winning a race.  The other half received their instructions over a neutral colored background.  In each of the three experiments, the employees who were exposed to the photo significantly outperformed the others.  Further analysis of similar studies has revealed consistently positive results for such subconscious “goal priming” as the researchers called it.

How could this be applied to training transfer?  The same principles apply – to influence employees’ behavior to remember and use the skills and knowledge learned in training, and to influence their managers to reinforce and support practice and use.  This technique is easy and inexpensive for a trainer to use, so why not try it?  Here are some specific ideas:

Find a photo that depicts “success”.  Remember, the one used in the experiment was a woman winning a race.  I usually have good luck with Microsoft images.  Other trainers I know like photos.com.  Another option is Google images, but do be careful about copyrights.

Toward the end of the training — whether face-to-face, virtual live training, or e-learning , summarize the key learning points and either identify what participants should do or practice when they get back to work, or ask them to develop their own action plans.

Next, place the action items over the background of the “success photo” you’ve chosen.  If participants have developed their own action plan, include the success photo, perhaps in soft focus, as a handout.  Ask participants to write their action items on this page.

Or, use the photo as background in a PowerPoint slide as part of your presentation, in the same manner as above.

Or, email the photo with action item reminders on it as an attachment, to participants after the training.  Encourage them to use it as a screen saver for 30-60 days to help ingrain their new performance.

Use the photo as background in the body of an after-training email reminder to use what they learned.

Have posters made of the photo with reminders.  Send to participants and encourage them to post in their cubicles.

I can’t wait to try some of these ideas in my next training!

If you try any of these, will you please share your experiences with us – what you did and how it went?

Until next time….

Barbara

P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining


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,

Barbara

**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:

http://rtc.umn.edu/docs/2_18_Gen_diff_workplace.pdf

http://www.fdu.edu/newspubs/magazine/05ws/generations.htm

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…

Barbara

 

 

 

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.

Enjoy!

Until next time….

Barbara

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…..

Barbara

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….

Barbara

P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining

Elearning is expanding! Learn how to make it stick and catch up with the latest research in my newest book –  click to learn about our 3 book special

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…..

Barbara

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


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