Six steps for embedding and sustaining learning

by L&D16 Nov 2016
In a recent article, Karen West, a principal consultant at a&dc, explored the subject of continuing the learning process once the development centres, team-days and workshops have been completed.
That is, embedding continued learning and development within organisations.
Below, West shares a six-stage L&D cycle that she used to teach to new trainers.
“In my view, working our way around this cycle provides all the clues we need to engage our clients and participants, collaborating to aid both the embedding and sustaining of learning,” she told Personnel Today.
Stage 1 – Organisational aims and needs
We must establish (with as much clarity as we can), the purpose of whatever it is we are commissioned to work on. The question ‘why’ is worth repeating (and repeating), until this is crystal clear; speedily followed up by the ‘what’.
Why is this piece of learning and/or development needed/being commissioned? What is its purpose and intention? What are the expectations of the participants at the end of the process?

Stage 2 – Establishing learning aims and outcomes
Hands-up – OK, I confess, once a trainer of trainers, always a trainer of trainers. We also need to work hard at ensuring that we have a robust set of learning aims and outcomes in place before we get anywhere near to choosing methodologies.
Like a reformed smoker who grimaces when someone lights up near them or the person who just can’t resist pointing out apostrophes or grammatical errors (even when it’s not really appropriate or sensitive to do so!), I can’t bear poorly drafted learning aims and outcomes, be these learning objectives or learning goals (and the choice of these is always related to the answers to the questions at stage 1). When well written, they offer us the best chance of all of finding that Holy Grail.

Stage 3 – Key learning points
These are so easy to identify when you’ve got stage 2 right and, depending on the resources (time, location, number of participants/facilitators etc.), you can then be clear about the musts, shoulds and coulds of these – i.e. when time or other resources are limited, which learning points must be achieved, which should and which are more ‘nice to haves’?

Stage 4 – Select learning methodologies
If stage 3 is easy, providing you get stages 1 and 2 right, stage 4 is a bit trickier. There’s so much that is likely unknown (e.g. preferred learning styles of your participants), so you need to make sensible assumptions and also be guided by all those constraints, like how long your participants can be ‘present’ for and whether you have the opportunity for face-to-face contact.

Stage 5 – Delivering the learning intervention
It won’t come as news to any reader that when we have the opportunity for face-to-face (or at least some kind of voice/sight contact with learners if the development is being delivered remotely), that there are multiple opportunities to sustain and embed learning:
  • ask questions to check and test understanding
  • answer questions to resolve areas of misunderstanding
  • observe and give feedback on all kinds of behavioural exercises
  • encourage learners to create ‘so what’ and ‘now what’ action plans to apply and sustain the learning back in the workplace
It’s all much more challenging though when we don’t have direct learner contact through the learning process, so in our designs we need to find different ways to achieve the same results.
Stage 6 and throughout – Review and Evaluation
Traditionally, evaluation is what we have done once the intervention is ‘done’. We’re looking to prove and improve for next time, but of course, whilst there are vital post-learning activities, these are processes that need to happen throughout the training cycle.

We need to review our learning aims and outcomes (e.g. with the client to ensure that they summarise what was agreed at stage 1), to quality assure our designs and so on. In respect of embedding and sustaining learning, post-intervention measures that engage both learners and line managers are great ways of gathering data, but we need to agree these with our clients – up front, at the very beginning of the design process.