Making Learning Stick

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Here’s a familiar L&D scenario…the workshop was great, well pitched, with good participant interaction and some clear learning. There was great initial feedback. But a couple of weeks later, you, as L&D Manager, are curious to discover if the learning is making a practical difference. We all know that getting past the participant’s initial learning phase is essential.

In these demanding times, organisations sometimes don’t have a capacity, or are unclear about how, to embed programme learning. Especially with ‘open learning’ programmes, that various staff in the organisation can attend (as opposed to programmes targeted for specific teams or departments), it can be a real challenge.

Ensuring learning translates into mindset discoveries, actions at work and behaviour changes, is important.  It gives you a greater return on your investment. So how can we all make sure learning is kept alive well after the workshop?

In my experience, there are dozens of easy steps we can take, as programme designers, facilitators and coordinators. Here, I discuss five well developed and successful approaches.

1. Capturing small steps
We know that reflection is an essential part of the learning cycle. For some learners, this is actually the preferred way of creating those ‘a-ha’ moments.

In a workshop you can create some time towards the end for participants to ask ‘what is your main takeaway’ and, ‘What you are going to practice in the coming days?’

This can be a reflective five minutes, or as long as it takes for the group to have a rich and full discussion. Even ‘activist’ learners benefit from this time – it deepens insights, gives perspective and creates a mindful moment.

Online: participants could reflect using simple note-taking on a phone or computer, or a mics-on discussion

Face to face: you could have table discussions with named sticky notes, where each person lists their name, main takeaway and one small step that they will action. They also include the name of someone who they think will help hold them accountable. Place these onto a flipchart sheet, snapshot them and ask people to discuss them (if not done already). Close the conversation by asking them to take their sticky note away as their own record.

You could follow up with participants 30 days after, sharing the sticky note pic. Asking, ‘how did you get on with your small step?’ You could include the original (MS teams) link for the programme and ask them to add ‘extra comments on impact’ in the chat box.

2. Longer programmes – Weekly Glue and Peer Practice
On a L&D herbal course with the late herbalist and university lecturer Chris Hedley, Chris used the term ‘weekly glue’ to refer to the suggested practice between sessions, that would make the learning stick! It’s a phrase that stayed with me. It humorously helped me to see how the practice, or reflection, combined with learner enthusiasm, holds the learning together between workshops.

It’s becoming more common for facilitators to link to an article that they’ve written, a video that’s already available, or a resource that learners can follow up, after a workshop  or action learning session. I’ve noticed over this last year, that participants are actually watching these videos more, or reading these blogs more often than previously. They’ve become more popular, it seems, since lockdown and hybrid working.

In addition, small and specific activities, that can be carried out with peers on the programme, are especially useful. In your programme preparation, pair up the participants for post-programme activities, so that they know who they will be working with for their ‘weekly glue’. Mix these pairings up at each module for variety.

Here are some interesting recent ‘weekly glue’ practice ideas (including timings) participants have enjoyed:
⁃ Manager as Coach Programme: Go to a cafe and look at how the conversations are being held. How much listening and how much talking is going on? (20 mins).

⁃ BAME Leadership Programme: Pre-module activity. Watch two 5 min videos with very different viewpoints. Reflect on the videos, in preparation for a workshop discussion (10-15 mins pre workshop activity).

These activities can offer either opportunities for reflective practice, e.g.  journaling, or practice activities. Either is useful. Especially in our culture of the fast-paced working environment. Reflection, of even a few minutes, can be incredibly useful and a welcoming moment of change from a large to-do list!

3. Building in ‘scaffolding’, with managers and staff
Where you are working with an external consultant on a programme for a team, specific group or department, it’s useful to have the consultant connect with the participants’ managers and the staff before, during and after the programme.

On programmes of longer than half a day, organisations that have the capacity,  can factor in a small amount of this scaffolding time. In my experience, it makes an incredible difference to the quality of a programme,  and it leads  to a project-type approach to learning programmes.

Here is a typical scaffolding idea, that includes staff:

Plan in 30-60 mins for the facilitator to create a pre-programme online survey, so that participants can contribute to shaping the programme. This consists of questions such as ‘What would make this learning useful for you?’ I’ve used this on Team Away days successfully.

4. Review discussions
If you have the budget or capacity, invite your facilitator to lead a mini review discussion with the course participants. If budget is an issue, but you have the capacity, you might be able to lead this yourself.

In these meetings, I use a blend of a coaching approach and mentoring approach to enable participants to revisit ‘what’s different and what’s better?’ since the programme.  We also peer review some key learning ideas from the programme, recalling what has really still resonated. Inspiring stories emerge, that rekindle the enthusiasm for application of any learning.

5. Follow up ideas – with Padlet

This year I’m experimenting with 30 day Padlet follow-up boards. These are Padlet boards and links that participants receive 30 days after the programme. The Padlet is live just for two weeks. It consists of ‘bonus resource’ and, ‘follow-up questions’.

The resources are videos or a blog, to encourage a re-connection or an extension of programme ideas. For example on the resilience and well-being programme, I include a short four minute video and programme follow-up questions about ‘what learning landed?’ and ‘what you are experimenting with?’

This is a great way to capture longer-term impact. I also take the opportunity to ask about ‘what additional learning you are interested in?’ This informs future topics often helps the organisation to see what L&D staff could do to make the learning stick even further.

I’ve been trialling the ‘Extend Learning’ Padlets over the last month, for programmes of more than 6 hours and they are proving incredibly popular and valuable.

What’s worked best and when to use?

This is just a small range of the ideas that you can use to enable learning to extend way beyond the initial workshop or programme enthusiasm phase. The ‘scaffolding’ and ‘weekly glue’ is, in my experience, the most valuable thing for longer programmes. We are creatures of habit and changing habits can be hard. The more points that we have to reflect on and practice before, during and after a programme, the better.

The ‘scaffold’ connecting with participants pre-programme approach has proven incredibly valuable for programmes with targeted groups or departments. There is no doubt that participants who feel included in shaping a programme, experience less internal resistance to learning and an increased likelihood of a smoother learning journey.

Finally, the ‘small steps’ have been beneficial over the years for short workshops, where you need to encourage a sense of post-programme practice in a limited timeframe.
Quick summary

Supporting deeper learning doesn’t have to take huge amounts of time or money. When you attend to these ideas and activities, you support staff to take responsibility for their learning and increase the likelihood of a longer term change in mindset, a change in actions and a deeper behavioural change as a result of their learning. So it’s a win- win for everyone.

References:

Bassott, B. (2013) The Reflective Journal, Palgrave Macmillan

Kolb, D (1984) Experiential Learning, New Jersey: Prentice Hall


About the author: Andry Anastasis McFarlane is an Executive Coach, Facilitator, Consultant and Author with over 15 years’ experience of running a UK Learning and Development Business

L&D group
Andry Anastasis McFarlane and The Learning Moment lead ‘Moving L&D group’, a free live online discussion space for L&D practitioners. The next meeting focuses on making learning stick . To book on the next June free event, visit: https://bit.ly/39fRCKa

Andry is contactable on:

W: https://thelearningmoment.org
M: 07984 107728

E: andry@thelearningmoment.org