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How to Make Learning Stick
Event-centered learning should be abandoned. So, what’s a better approach? Think engagement.
Making learning stick lies at the heart of any learning and development function. After all, it’s only when learning translates to action that a return on investment is realized.
Yet many learning leaders focus on things like post-training coaching, which, while better than no post-training, acts on a fundamental falsehood in understanding human change processes.
A 2008 research study by Lisa Burke, an associate professor of management at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and Holly Hutchins, an assistant professor of human resource development at the University of Houston, asked training professionals what best practices they felt led to learning transfer.
People at lower and middle levels of an organization — say, an analyst, manager and director — most frequently described activities that occur after training. Respondents holding executive positions most frequently identified activities that occurred during the earlier design phase.
These are understandable. But they are also ill-conceived, event-centric responses.
Many learning functions are designed to run events, maximize occupancy and measure reaction. Practitioner and academic literature doesn’t help to break this event-centered point of view, with almost all the models of instructional design and transfer using a before-the-event, during-the-event and after-the-event framework.
This assumption also leads to conceptual confusion about formalizing informal learning. It is time this wrongheaded, underlying assumption was abandoned. Such a framework pervades the way leaders and practitioners describe learning and lies at the heart of low transfer rates and poor returns on investment.
To make learning stick, learning leaders need a fundamental shift in the way they think about transfer and where they focus interventions.
A more useful framework is learner-centered — it considers a cycle of how practitioners support engagement, participation and activation of an individual’s prior learning. Participation here doesn’t need to be in an event; it could just as easily be informal learning, with no need to define boundaries.
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