You attend a training course, how do you make sure you’re doing everything you can to get the most out of what you are learning?
How do you make sure that once the training is over and you head back to the office, that you’re still able to utilise what you have learnt?
From as early as 1981 with Michalak’s research called ‘The Neglected Half of Training’, there has been problems highlighted about the transfer of learning.
The transfer of learning is focused on the gap between the training you take and your workplace performance. If organisations are spending money on employee training, of course, they want to see a return on that.
The problems have focused on factors* such as:
- Training design – for example, is the training realistic enough?
- Trainee characteristics – for example, their own abilities and motivation.
- The work environment – for example, the opportunity to put into practice what you have learnt.
There’s plenty we can do as individual learners and organisations to try and overcome these problems. In this article, we focus on you, an individual who is looking to getting the most out of the education opportunity you’ve been given. If we’re spending valuable time away from the office, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make it a success.
Here’s what you can be doing:
Before Your Training
First of all, is it the right course for you?
1. Training Needs Analysis
You can get as formal as you need to with training needs analysis. Perhaps your organisation’s learning and development department already have the career management and careers path frameworks available for your role. Maybe you’re already taken a competency assessment that is highlighting where your current skills gaps are?
If none of these are available to you today in your organisation, you can, at least, look towards your project management professional association and use the competency framework that already exists to get you started. You can check out the PMI one here.
What you’re trying to do here is understand what skills gaps you may have based on your current role and where you’d like to get to in the short to mid future.
2. What’s in it for Me?
You also need to think about the different courses that may be available to address your current skills gaps. There are plenty of courses available – online, classroom, a mix of both (blended) – there are bite-sized, informal learning, longer non-certified and of course professional certifications training too.
With project management, there are options to think about in terms of do you need an overarching qualification, such as the PMI PMP, or is it a very specific technical project management skill, such as risk management? Is it a broader topic, like Agile or more business-focused and strategic?
Taking the time to understand what your goals and objectives are in taking up the training are going to help you in making the right choice of course in the first place. Remember, the problems with the transfer of learning lay at the feet of the trainee just as much as the training design and the workplace environment so we have an active part to play in making the right choices.
3. Think About the Delivery Method
Do you know what kind of learner you are? I personally love sitting in a classroom, being able to listen to others as well as the trainer. I like to make sure I’ve planned to be fully out of the office, no interruptions, and I’m totally engaged. I see training as a treat, something to look forward to and feel pretty indulgent to be able to spend some time away from the office to do it.
How about you?
Do you have strong feelings about it? Are you time-conscious? Or just want to rattle through it, sit the exam and go?
It helps if we have an appreciation of what our learning styles might be, and this article looks at the seven styles in the context of project management.
During Your Training
How do capture what you are learning during the course? I’ve been on many courses and observed so many different styles – from those people who take copious amounts of notes, to those that do nothing but sit and listen.
Here are three different approaches that have helped learners keep a track of what they’re learning, perhaps one would appeal to you:
1. Using the Course Materials to Take Notes
Why not go back to basics and learn again about how to take notes on training courses – we can go right back to school before we embark on our course to get our mindset back into how we do this.
There’s a lot to choose from on You Tube, here’s one to get you started:
2. Using Apps
How about trying out some of the different apps that are out there to help you take your notes. I use Notability because I can use it with the pen on iPad. I can take longhand notes, doodles, bring in some photos of the materials or exercises from the classes – I can also add clips from websites and so on. I guess I’m a visual learner.
Other options include apps like Evernote – where you’re capturing your note-taking in a device which you can then easily refer to on multiple devices later. There’s even an option to record some of the class (when you’ve gained permission!) which works well when you’re into the auditory style.
3. Using Social Media
In some shorter forms of training – like bite-sized learning, I often like to use Twitter to make my notes! I find it a good way of distilling what I’m learning to good bite-sized pieces. It also means that I can refer to it at any time because it’s recorded.
Twitter was originally known as the short-form blog, it’s lost its way a little but using it in this way also means I can get chatting with others that are also interested in what I’m learning about. A real social learning style if ever there was one.
All three of these ways of capturing what I’m learning whilst I’m on the course have much more practical use for me – long after the course has finished and the course materials are tucked away.
Throughout the course I’m making a list of things I want to follow up on – find out more about – or something I know I want to put into action.
That’s when I move onto the other step, after the course is over.
After Your Training
In the problems of transfer of learning, the working environment is listed as a factor. Alongside not having the opportunity to put into practice what you’ve learnt – mainly because your role doesn’t have that responsibility or accountability – there are other familiar ones too that stop us from trying out what we have learnt back in the workplace.
- Not having the managerial support needed
- Not having the right equipment or tools
- Not having the time to practice
- The attitudes and cultures that don’t support trial and error
- A lack of goal-setting by the line manager
- And having the time to reflect and follow up on the training.
Having an understanding of what factors are likely to come into play in your organisation before you attend training can make all the difference. Having a conversation with your line manager about the expectations of taking the training course will lead to more transparency – and more understanding on your part about what you’ll be doing back in the workplace post-training.
The final factor – having the time to reflect and follow-up on training is something you can proactively do yourself.
Reflective practice, which is, “studying your own experiences to improve the way you work” has become a popular practice amongst professionals and project management practitioners are no different.
The Gibbs Reflective Cycle is a great place to start to understand more about it:
As a way of recording your reflective practice, journaling has become a popular approach, and yes there’s an App for that – as well as just using a notebook!
I started using Day One to capture not only my experiences from training courses but for lots of other experiences in everyday life as well as work. There are also lots of different types of journals too including gratitude journals; bullet journals and of course, reflective journals.
Day One enables you to do whatever journaling you want – and also captures your other social media posts; add photos and documents – and write freehand.
With my training notes, I transfer very specific parts that I want to learn more about or put an action plan against. I often add other articles and bits of research – but most of all I write about what I think and feel about what I’m trying to put into practice.
With all of these different elements – before, during and after training – it’s up to me to keep that training alive and to keep my knowledge evolving.
So how about you? How do you try to beat the odds of transfer of learning being a success for you and your career?
*Rebecca Grossman and Eduardo Salas, (2011) “The transfer of training: what really matters” International Journal of Training and Development 15:2