Action Plans – Do they make training stick?

Action plans have long been thought to support training transfer and to make the training stick.  Actually the truth is….. yes, no, and …. sometimes.

End-of-training goals signal what is important, they provide a sense of direction, and they can be a focus for evaluation and feedback on performance of the task(s).   But simply asking participants to jot down their goals, or what they plan to do to apply their learning, will have limited effectiveness.  Also limited in effectiveness is setting difficult goals that are hard to reach.  However, goals that focus on specific behavior outcomes can be very effective in producing on-the-job application of skills learned in training, particularly for complex skills.   Also, when feedback is solicited from participants’ colleagues  and participants know this will happen, action plans will spring to life.

Consider applying the following evidence-based enhancements to your current action planning segments.  You will significantly increase how well participants transfer their learning.  For additional ideas on action planning see my earlier Sticky Note.

  • Develop specific behavior outcomes that identify skills to be applied.  These behavior outcomes might replace the course objectives or they can be used to enhance them and make them more “actionable”.   For related information on sticky class objectives, see my earlier Sticky Note.

Here are a few examples of behavior outcomes:    There should be between 3 and 15 of them depending of course on the length of the class:  “Gives employees feedback on a regular basis” (supervisor training), “Calls the customer by name” (customer service training), “Uses current discussion boards for current issues and solutions” (software or help desk).

  • As part of the end-of-class action planning segment, provide participants with a list of the behavior outcomes that they should expect to apply.  Either suggest that they choose among these for inclusion in their own action plans, or provide the action plan pre-completed with the behavior outcomes listed.  Numerous studies have found that when action plans have specific behavior outcomes, participants are more likely to do them.
  • Ask participants to supply the names/contact info for at least 2 coworkers, subordinates, or manager(s) they work with, who will be asked later for feedback.
  • Survey these coworkers, subordinates, or managers 3 months after the training, using the behavior outcomes previously developed.  Assure them the results will be confidential.   Consider whether or not to share the feedback from the survey with the participant, and if so, how to protect the confidentiality of those who responded, particularly since there will be  small numbers of respondents.

Online survey tools are helpful for providing anonymous feedback but may not be enough to assure confidentiality with a small number of respondents.  Note: whether or not these individuals are actually surveyed may not be as much of a motivator as that the participants believe they will be surveyed.

The purpose here is to make participants accountable for applying the skills, but of course the information collected might be used for evaluation of the class or for follow-up training.

  • Adapt for elearning in the following ways:

o   List the behavior outcomes close to the end of the last module in the training.

o   Provide an action plan form with behavior outcomes listed.  Direct the trainee to fill in a date or milestone, and suggest that they print it for reference.

o   Set up your LMS to send the survey mentioned above to participants’ managers (who are generally already loaded into the LMS).

o   Consider developing an interactive action planning tool participant

Until next time…

Barbara

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