How to Make Training Stick: Key Aspects of Effective Learning July 27 2015

Training represents a significant investment of money, time, and effort for employers. Still, whether it be legally mandated or required in order to maintain status as industry experts, training programs remain a fact of life. Properly applied, training can be instrumental in building a highly skilled and driven workforce.

And yet, so often, it can fall flat. Trainees that may have seemed so promising can immediately revert back to old habits after completing training, rather than applying their new skills. Through mismanaged training programs, employees may walk away knowing even less than they did on outset and misapply their half-learned techniques to negative effect.

In an ideal working environment, an employee should be able to acquire skills that they might then generalize to other aspects of their job. However, their environment can do a great deal to slow or halt this learning process. In order to understand how we might make training effective, we need to understand some of the basic underlying principles. Broadly speaking, we can group them into three distinct factors: Trainee Characteristics, Training Design, and Working Environment.

Trainee Characteristics:

It should come as no surprise that in determining the effectiveness of a training program, the trainees themselves are often the key ingredient. Each trainee is unique; some may possess traits that encourage the adoption of trained skills more than others. While you may not be able to choose your pool of available trainees, you may have some freedom in selecting which employees are to attend the session in question. Be on the lookout for employees who are self-motivated and have confidence their own capabilities.

Training Design:

Training design refers to the training program itself: What are trainees being taught? How are they being taught? How much time is provided to learn? Are they being given the opportunity to practice their new skills? The considerations of a specific training program depend largely on the subject matter, and so there is no universal rule. However, if you find yourself in a position where you are required to create your own training program, here are three primary elements to keep in mind:

  • Theory: If training exists to teach something, then the theoretical principles are the reasoning behind it all. Knowing the theory allows individuals to understand the importance and purpose of a training program. Employees who understand the fundamentals are more likely to become invested in the result.
  • Task Fidelity: This refers to how closely the training scenario reflects genuine working conditions. The closer training is to real life, the more likely trainees will be able to take the skills they learn and apply them outside the simulation.
  • Stimulus Variability: As complicated as it may sound, for our purposes stimulus variability merely means giving trainees a variety of different examples of a concept, or a variety of different situations in which to practice. This shows the trainee that their skills may be useful in a wide variety of circumstances, rather than restricting them to the specific environment in which they were trained.

Working Environment:

As previously inferred, an employee’s working environment can have great impact in the success of a training program, even after training has already taken place. Trainee growth can be encouraged and discouraged in a myriad of different ways. The following are some of the key factors employers can use to influence the fruits of training:

  • Transfer Climate: This refers to whether or not a trainee’s surroundings are enhancing or inhibiting their ability to take skills learned in training and apply them on the job. Are trainees being afforded the opportunity to practice their new skills? Do they have access to resources they need to employ them?
  • Learning Culture: An organization’s goals, beliefs, and values can influence the morale of its employees. If an employee identifies learning behaviors as being a key aspect of their company’s culture, then they are more likely to adopt said behaviors in turn. For this reason, members of an organization should be encouraged to believe that the pursuit of skill and knowledge are a central part of their job duties.