Book excerpt: How to reboot training for 2020 and beyond

TJ highlights a section of the new book from the mind of learning transfer expert Paul Matthews.

For most behavioural change outcomes you will find the package you design using the approach above will be a blend of many components; it will have content such as elearning or videos, contributions from a trainer, on-the-job practice with feedback, opportunities for discussion and collaboration, and significant manager involvement.

It won’t be a once and done event, virtual or otherwise; and it certainly won’t be an old-style training course that has been ‘webinised’.

The inevitable outcome from your design process will be a programme consisting of activities that learners need to do over a period of time and alongside their normal day-to-day work activities.

In effect, you are setting up an activities workflow within their day-to-day job where learners will step through a sequence of activities, and in doing so, they will successfully achieve the workflow outcome which is the change in behaviour.

Building skills with practice, and repeating activities frequently enough to start creating habits does take time, so avoid the temptation to rush a programme.

Here is an example of a workflow you can use or modify for your delivery process. It is based on a regular cycle which has the following components:

  1. Huddle. This is a 60 — 90 minute get together online where a facilitator helps a small cohort of learners review their activities during the previous week and sets up the activities for the next week. Think of this as a tutorial to help keep people on track.
  2. Study. The learners go through the recommended content, or content they have found through research, to the extent that they need it in order to participate in the practice activities. Think of this as utilising the flipped classroom model.
  3. Practice. The learners participate in ‘deliberate practice’ which refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.
  4. Feedback. The learners receive constructive feedback on their activities from a manager or peer, or from a measure they have put in place like a stopwatch, counter or selfie video. Feedback is a critical component of deliberate practice.

Learning cycles

A weekly cycle works well. A week is enough time for learners to do the activities and not so long that the programme loses momentum. It fits with the weekly operational rhythm that is common in most organisations and is therefore less disruptive.

It also works well to set a consistent time, for example, the huddle is always at 15:00 on a Wednesday; this sets expectations for colleagues for when the learner is unavailable for other duties. Another advantage of a regular weekly cycle is that it promotes a culture of regular learning.

Learning, and interacting with a manager and peers about learning, becomes an integral part of work rather than something separate that is done ‘over there’ in a classroom, virtual or real.

The number of cycles will depend on how much time all the activities on the programme will take an average learner to complete, divided by the amount of time they can dedicate to doing those activities each week.

Building skills with practice, and repeating activities frequently enough to start creating habits does take time, so avoid the temptation to rush a programme. ‘Little and often’ is a better mantra than ‘get it over with’. We want learners to digest new ideas, experiment with them, and then develop their skills and apply them as behaviours in their work; your programme will fail without giving them time to do this.

When you are designing your learning cycles, look for a natural chronological build order for the skills. How do the skills you want to see in your learners build on each other over time, and when do you need to cycle back to repeat the practice of a skill to reinforce it at a higher level, or practice two skills together?

Sometimes it is better to practice a single skill in isolation, and other times it is better to practice several skills together in the way they might be required in the real work context. Mix it up. Think of practising elements of a golf swing, then bringing them together, or elements of a sales conversation, then bringing them together.

Also, look to get a sense of balance across the cycles. Design them so that both the activity load and the cognitive load are similar across cycles. We are not used to doing this in a physical classroom. In traditional training, we often just crammed in as much as possible over the days we had them in their seats. Chunking and load balancing is a new thing we have to learn to do.

It is essential that you get agreement from line managers for your new cyclic approach, and you should reinforce this with the support of a senior executive sponsor. Talk through the logic of your design process with them and encourage their participation in the design.

You need their buy in because any resistance from them will kill your programme. Arguably, since so much of the programme is happening on their watch, you need their support more than you ever did.

They need to be comfortable that the programme design will not impact productivity more than they are prepared to put up with in relation to the potential gains they see from the programme. There must be an ROI from their perspective. What are they investing and what are they getting in return?

You need to articulate this and sell it to them.

About the author

Paul Matthews is a speaker and L&D consultant who specialises in learning transfer. You can download his new book here


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