Are you taking a closer look at “learning transfer”? Are you wondering how to make sure the lessons taught through your leadership training and development efforts stick weeks, months, or years later? There is no magic bullet to ensure people apply what they learn. But there are steps you can take to create leadership programs, experiences, and supports that improve the likelihood that lessons will be learned and applied. Over time, new skills, perspectives, or behaviors can be reinforced, until they become unconsciously and competently put to use.


Think in 3 Phases

What happens before and after the formal part of a program or development effort is just as important as the content and delivery. This is true whether the initiative is long or short, in-person or virtual, ongoing or one-time. CCL takes the “Prepare, Engage, Apply” approach to helping individuals and organizations get the most out of leadership development.

Prepare. As soon as a person is tapped for or has chosen to participate in a formal leadership effort, the development process begins. How might you help participants start learning right away? How do you get them thinking about their leadership experiences, challenges, and needs? How do you help them connect to the purpose, content, and value of their development experience?

The prepare phase involves good communication about logistics and expectations—but also begins to build an emotional connection to personalize the learning experience. It is a chance to engage and excite the learner—rather than approaching the process as another item on their calendar (Stewart, Palmer, Wilkin, & Kerrin, 2008). Research shows that participants begin to engage in a development experience when they are able to make plans with a boss, mentor, or coach and discuss the support they will need (Brown & McCracken, 2010; Lancaster, Milia, & Cameron, 2013). In addition, learners need information and activities to help them understand how the program will benefit them (Katzell & Thompson, 1990).

CCL prepares learners for their experience by providing guidelines for interviewing key stakeholders, selecting challenges to apply course learning, providing brief e-learning segments, and asking the learners and their colleagues to complete assessments of their leadership skills and style. Other activities could include reading assignments, videos from past participants describing their experience, or welcome videos or webinars from the faculty.

Engage. The content of a learning experience is important, but so is the way it is presented. Listening to speakers and reading information is a passive learning process—and information is less likely to stick than processes that connect and engage each person through applied practice. How might you create opportunities for guided practice and skill development throughout the program?

Whether you are working in a live, face-to-face setting or a virtual classroom, consider a mix of activities such as skill-building, action-learning, reflection, simulations, experiential activities, goal-setting, and coaching.

Apply. Reinforcement and support at work—away from the learning environment and over time—is essential for learning transfer. How might you create opportunities for the participants to use and continue new learning at work and beyond?

Most people need structures that foster the application of new concepts and practice of new skills to achieve behavior change. Participants need support and encouragement to get past the initial awkward phase that accompanies the application of new skills. Some options include action-learning projects tied to real work issues, conversations to help connect new learning to an existing business challenge, follow-up lessons through reading, discussion, eLearning assignments, toolkits or job aids, and coaching focused on making progress on goals.

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