Masterclass: Sustaining effective learning

Learning and development designed around specific needs is more likely to have an impact than an off-the-shelf intervention. A rigorous approach to learning design will ensure that development initiatives successfully result in changed behaviours or attitudes.

There are a number of steps that developers can take – outside of the actual design of their interventions – that will result in successful learning that is fully integrated within the workplace.

The ‘wow’ factor

Some trainers make the mistake of trying too hard to ensure that people merely enjoy a course, instead of challenging the delegates to think about new ideas or behaviours. However, the ‘wow’ factor, for many delegates, is often something that simply makes sense to them at an individual level.

The light bulb goes on, and they begin to see things in a different way for the first time. Or they may realise they have a choice about how they operate, and don’t always have to do things in the same way. Nonetheless, having fun can really assist the learning process.

Transfer of learning

A key challenge for developers is to ensure that people can transfer the learning back to their day-to-day work.

The first step is to ensure the development activity is closely aligned to the real work environment. This can only be achieved through thorough diagnostic interviews and familiarisation visits prior to designing the intervention.

If new skills are to be effectively transferred to the workplace, developers should support people in creating action plans that they can easily implement. People need to find opportunities where they can apply their new skills to a real scenario.

For this to work, delegates should consider the response they are likely to get back in the workplace. If they try out their new-found ideas or skills and someone makes a negative comment, they may be back to square one. Without a supportive culture, delegates won’t apply their learning when they go back into the system.

Line manager support

Delegates should be involved in discussions about their development goals with their line managers before and after any development event. This not only ensures that the line manager is aware of the impending development, but it also creates an opportunity afterwards for the line manager to provide feedback on how the delegate is implementing the learning.

The delegates should also ask their line managers to introduce a regular development review. This may be separate from the appraisal process, and not associated with targets and performance measures. Instead, it is a review of the skills they need to be more effective in their current or desired roles.

Learning organisation

Developers should endeavour to encourage a mindset of lifelong learning in people. Part of this involves encouraging individuals to introduce more critical self-reflection into their daily working lives: was I effective at that? What can I learn from it?

By looking at themselves and their skill sets, individuals can challenge themselves to improve, and take responsibility for their own learning.

Buy-in from the top

A key issue for the lasting success of learning is whether it is supported by senior stakeholders in the organisation. The chief executive, MD or senior managers can demonstrate their commitment to development interventions, by taking part in a ‘guest spot’ as part of the intervention or involving themselves in a conference dinner, for example.

Delegate networks
Developers should encourage delegates to form support networks. Learning sets – small groups of delegates who meet regularly to challenge and support each other as they try to apply their learning – are a good option. However, as they are rooted in the workplace, the danger is that the set becomes a talking shop. An experienced facilitator will ensure delegates are focused on applying their learning.


The evaluation of training is not simply about measuring cause and effect. Development is usually interwoven with other changes, and it can be difficult to separate the benefits of the training from other events.

Qualitative evaluation is a good choice. One such option is to re-run an assessment measure that people have completed before the programme, such as 360-degree feedback. They could re-evaluate their skills and ask other people whether they have noticed a difference in their behaviour.

You could get groups of participants together some time after the programme to discuss the impact of the learning, by talking about where the organisation is now, and what part the programme played in that.

You could take sample assessments from people about how competent they feel in their job. You could also run employee attitude surveys to find out whether people think the organisation is supportive of learning. Or you could simply monitor people’s performance through their appraisals, and see how it has progressed.

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