Archive for the ‘Time periods of training’ Category

Letter to Self – Easy Closing Activity that Makes Training Stick

September 15, 2017



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.


Until next time…




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…


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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Making it Stick – Before

May 16, 2011

Which of these learning and development roles applies to you?

  • You’re getting ready to teach a class for the first time…..or the 100th time.
  • You’re developing material for an online or face-to-face class,
  • You’re developing or modifying the company training calendar.
  • You’re working with senior management to address skills gaps and key learning goals and needs.
  • You’re identifying external training opportunities for individual employees’ needs.

In each of these roles, it’s important for you to not only think about the learning event itself – face-to-face, e-learning, virtual live, or blended. It’s also important for you to plan what happens before and after the learning event(s). Broad and Newstrom’s research revealed that the time periods before and after the learning event are as important or in some instances, more important than the learning event itself. My white paper on time periods explains more about time periods as well as critical roles for making learning stick. Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman estimate that 50% of performance improvement comes from activities outside the training event itself.

Here are a few suggestions for what various trainer roles can do before the training, to help make it stick:

  • Design the training/instructor manual to include a pre-training email to both the participant and their manager. Write it out verbatim to assure consistency.
  • Record an audio introduction to the course and the instructor – and/or send an email with this information. Ask participants to think about a situation or challenge they have had that ties in with the training topic or the need for this training. Include this pre-training communication with the registration confirmation sent by your LMS.
  • Clarify and confirm specific skills that participants need to be able to know or do as a result of the training. Confirm the “business case” for this training topic with senior management. Specify what they need to do to support the training.
  • Send participants and their managers a list of the objectives for the training. Simplify the objectives for easy understanding by non-trainers. Ask them to add their own objectives and/or rank order the objectives in order of importance, and to send them to the instructor prior to training or bring them to the training.
  • Record a brief webinar or e-learning – no more than 5-10 minutes – that covers the key points of the training. Ask or require managers and senior leaders to participate in this “executive summary” the first time one of their employees participates.
  • Create a blog or chat feature in a protected area of your training website. Ask (require) participants to visit the site at least X times (no fewer than twice) over the next X days (at least 3 days) before the training will begin. Post several questions about the training topic which will gauge prior learning and/or application need. Or, schedule a phone conference to address these questions.
  • In your pre-training communication, express confidence that participants will learn the skill and be able to use it/them in their jobs. Use the “feel-felt-found” technique: Example: “You may feel overwhelmed at all the material we will cover in these 3 days. Others have felt this way before they started the class. But they found that when they did the practice exercises and took notes in their manuals, they were able to pass the certification test and start programming right away.”

Do you already use one or two of these suggestions, or a variation of them? Great! But don’t stop there. Recent research on training transfer emphasizes the importance of using multiple strategies and techniques. Different strategies will resonant and connect with different trainees and their managers. There can also be a building effect and synergy so that the results from using multiple strategies will be better than using any single strategy.

Until next time….
P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining

After Training – The Zeigarnik Effect

November 15, 2010

I often use follow-up activities after 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.

On a similar note, I have recently conducted several Making Learning Stick workshops for trainers.  The full day sessions have been very well received: participants have been attentive and receptive and the evaluations have been really good.  I’m pleased that the information I’ve shared and the experience I’ve facilitated has been a good one for these trainers.

In these train-the-trainer sessions I have asked each participant to email me later and describe the situation/training when they have used at least one of the techniques described in the training.  I have even promised an attractive Certificate of Transfer.  How many responses do you suppose I’ve received?  None.  Not a single one.  These are typical of the challenges we face when we try to reinforce and continue the learning after the formal learning event is over.

Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik developed a theory which became known as the Zeigarnik Effect.  Briefly, it says that people are more likely to remember what they have not gotten closure on.  (A complete description of this theory and effect is in my first book, Making Training Stick).   So when, in the learning event, the learning points are summarized and other closing activities are present, the Zeigarnik Effect 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 incomplete 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.  Maybe this is a new use for social learning tools such as discussion boards and Twitter.  An LMS system can probably be set up to send 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 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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