How to Create Sticky Workplace Learning

How to Create Sticky Workplace Learning
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Too Much Corporate Training Is Wasted
Done right, corporate training can be a great investment in career development, employee engagement, and performance improvement. Done wrong, however, corporate training can be a missed opportunity and a huge waste of both time and money for you and your employees. What you need is sticky workplace learning – learning that improves on-the-job behavior, competence, confidence, and performance in a way that moves people and the business forward.

We know, based upon the measurement of over 800 training programs, that training, by itself, changes the behavior and the on-the-job performance of only 1-in-5 participants on average.  Those are not great odds. 

Is There a Fix?
Yes.  There is s fix to create sticky workplace learning.  What matters first and foremost is that the learning be relevant. Employees need to believe that the skills and knowledge matter to their career, specific job, and overall job performance.  Their bosses need to believe that the skills and knowledge matter for team goals and accountabilities.  And lastly, company leadership needs to believe that the skills and knowledge matter in terms of moving a key people or business priority forward.  

Once you have ensured high levels of relevance for the participants, their bosses, and the company as a whole, the second key to sticky workplace learning is practice.

The Good News
When you allow for practice of new skills, research is on your side. Simply adding an interim step in your workplace learning program helps to solidify newly acquired skills.

The Research – Short-Term
From our microlearning experts, psychologists at Tel-Aviv University explored whether a small intervention could prevent “interference” of new learning with previously learned content when subjects were learning two new skills in close proximity. Two groups – a control and an experimental group – were taught a computer-based task and given time to practice.

The next day, the control group was taught a second task, similar to the first. After practicing the new task, they were asked to perform the task they’d learned the previous day. Their performance on the first task dropped by about 30% after being trained on the second task.

The experimental group underwent a similar routine, but with one crucial difference. On the second day, they were told to briefly practice the task they’d already learned first.  Then they were taught the new task. After that, they were tested on the first task. This design — first practice the old task, then learn the new one — headed off the performance decline and protected learners from the interference that the control group had experienced.

The Findings Long-Term
It gets better. A month later, the two groups were tested again on both tasks. The results?  The experimental group was able to perform both tasks at a higher level than the control group, who still showed the effects of the learning interference.

The Conclusion
The researchers found that “the brief reactivation of a single learned memory, in appropriate conditions, enables the long-term prevention of, or immunity to, future interference.” In other words, when participants have an opportunity to practice their new skills soon after learning them and before learning newer skills, the stickier the learning will be.

The Bottom Line
To significantly boost employees’ retention of new skills, give employees a chance to refresh and practice one skill before introducing another. Make sure you include this instructional design principle in your learning program so your development investment pays off. Easy enough to do, right?

To learn more about sticky workplace learning, download 3 Steps to Building a Smarter Training Initiative

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