How can you make your new learning stick?

You’ve completed a training course of some kind – what action do you take to ensure that new learning sticks?
It’s great when people tell me how they’re using what they learned from some Zoomly training and how it’s benefitting them – and that’s because they’ve made it stick. When I ask people in organisations how they make learning stick, a common response is that there’s not enough time. To a trainer’s ears it’s frustrating – there’s only so much an external vendor (as we seem to be called these days) can do. Yes, there are resources I offer that can help, such as downloads, videos and this blog; but it’s really up to you, the participant, to ensure the learning sticks. Here are four essential steps to take:

An essential element of making learning stick is reflecting on what we’ve just learned. The sooner after the training, the better; I’d go so far as to say it’s urgent. This is about taking a pause for thought to make sense of what we now know and how it fits with our development goals and current ways of working. Identify situations in your typical working day when you will benefit from applying the learning. Ask yourself, “How does this link with what I already know and do?”

It’s also worth considering people you know who already do this (thing you’ve just learned) really well – how do they do that? You can gain a lot from observing exemplars that will help you apply your new learning.

An obvious – yet often overlooked – effective way to make learning stick is to simply re-read your handouts and notes from the training. Return to them often for fresh insights about what you can apply.

The risk of trying stuff out for the first time can put off many a learner – but those who get ahead find ways to do it. My tip is to start right away with low-stakes situations. Your new presentation skills will benefit if you step up at the next team meeting, rather than dive straight into a major pitch. Your new capability with giving feedback will be more likely to blossom if you start with positive feedback (a.k.a. praise), as opposed to a serious discussion around poor performance. Take a few minutes’ reflection time as you experiment to reflect: what worked well? What didn’t? What have you learned that you can apply next time?

3.Be held accountable
Smart employers make it clear upfront that training participants will be held to account; learners will need to ‘show they know’ through what they’re doing differently. All too often, accountability is missing – pity. If your employer isn’t formally holding you accountable, you can set up an informal discussion for soon after the training. Start with your immediate line manager – how will they know ‘It’s working’? What’s a stretch assignment they can give you that will allow you to apply the learning? When can you have a 1:1 to get feedback on your improved performance? Other ways to be held accountable include:

  • Buddying up with a fellow participant and holding each other to those ‘how I’ll apply it’ promises made at the end of the training.
  • Having a conversation with a mentor* about how and by when you’ll put the learning into practice.
  • Forming an alumni group and meeting up on a regular basis.
  • Writing a personal case study.

4.Help others learn
“To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach.” – Hindu proverb
How can you share what you’ve learned? This is one of the most effective ways of not just making learning stick, but also helping others learn. You can write a blog post to share with colleagues or deliver an in-house talk. For technical / procedural topics, create a job aid, tips sheet, template, checklist or ‘how to’ video. It will benefit you and your colleagues.

If your employer is investing in your professional development, you need to show them a return. You won’t be doing that if you revert to doing exactly what you did before. The new knowledge, skills and behaviours you’ve just learned will slip away if you don’t do something – FAST – to make them stick.

*You may find this post useful: ‘Should you get a mentor?’ 


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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Image credits: Learning curve on a blackboard – thinglass – Depositphotos
Student studying with a laptop – Creatarka – Depositphotos

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