The time invested in preparing to get the most out of training will help to increase your learning, and its application and retention so that the initial investment in the learning activity will be paid back time and time again.
As important as training is, too often it is treated as a fringe benefit, reward, or social occasion with little if any plan or expectation on the part of attendees or their managers to maximize the investment. However, with a little forethought and planning, the effectiveness, retention, and practical application of any training – presentation, classroom lecture, experiential learning situation or even an internship – can be greatly enhanced.
Training will make a bigger difference in your organization if you follow these general guidelines:
Set learning goals prior to training.
Before any learning experience, you should set goals for the training of what you hope to learn, with yourself and with your manager. Learning goals help us focus our attention and retention of concepts discussed in training.
For example, after having read the description of a training session, make a list of specific questions you would like to have answered while you are in the training. Ask how the session applies to current job responsibilities that you have or future responsibilities that you anticipate. Then talk about your expectations with your manager and others in your immediate work group. Their comments might prompt you to form additional questions or learning goals for the training. The clearer your expectations for what you want to get out of the training, the greater the chances you will achieve those expectations.
Use real-life applications in the training.
Once you are in the training, consistently try to apply what is being discussed back to your job and work group. For example, if the course is about communication skills, think how you can apply what you are learning with your employees, manager and colleagues.
If there is a chance to role-play, use someone you are having difficulty communicating with in your work group as a case study for your activity. If the course is on leadership, make it an opportunity to actively define your philosophy of leadership with examples to illustrate your beliefs. If the course is about problem solving, select one or more problems from your work environment to address during the program.
Discuss the application of the concepts to your focus area with other program attendees and with the instructor during the break or at the end of the day. Also, check your list of questions to be sure all items are addressed before the session ends.
The more you can view training as a chance to pause and examine problems and situations in your work setting, the more likely you are to get lasting value from the program. Even if the training doesn’t call for it, make an action plan for implementing learnings and insights you gained in the program back on your job.
Follow up on learning objectives back on the job.
As soon as you are back on the job, get out your original learning goals and see how many you achieved. Share what you have learned with others: your manager, your peers, and your employees. Explaining things you have learned will help you to better integrate those concepts into your own behavior.
Identify at least one change to make right away to keep yourself from slipping back into old patterns and behaviors, and to gain momentum for making other changes. Share your action plan for doing things differently as a result of the program with others in your work group and seek support for the changes you plan to make. Even the most determined person can benefit from the support and encouragement of others when trying to change his or her behavior.
Set a time to review your plan and your progress against it in the not-so-distant future. Hold yourself accountable by sharing your plan with your manager or others in your department. The extent and frequency of your follow up is crucial to maximize the practical application of learnings you have had.
These three guidelines are not difficult to apply, in fact, you can have fun doing so. The time invested in getting the most out of training will help to increase your learning, its application and retention so that the initial investment in the learning activity will be paid back time and time again.