Case Study: How One Practitioner Got Training to Stick


A few weeks ago I was exchanging messages via LinkedIn with someone who had reached out to connect with me. As she began sharing more about her work, it was obvious she had a story to tell. Following is a guest post from Betty Dannewitz, who generously offered to share her experiences with the Train Like a Champion community. Be sure to share your thoughts about this case study with her in the comment section.

We know how the story goes.

Step 1: Trainee hears about a great class.

Step 2: Trainee shows up ready to learn.

Step 3: Trainee loves class and soaks up all the knowledge like a sponge.

Step 4: Trainee leaves class excited and energized.

Step 5: After class, all content falls out of trainee’s head.

Step 6: Trainee does nothing with the new skill set.

Step 7: Cycle repeats.   Continue reading

Case Study: Adding Training Staff Improved My Organization’s Bottom Line

On November 5, 2015, I happened to be speaking with a training colleague from another department when she began telling me the story of how she was finally able to add a .5 FTE to her training team. I asked how it was working out for her, and she began rattling off all the benefits she was seeing.

It had helped lighten her workload. She had a new partner in crime with whom she could kick ideas around. This new training person was super-high quality.

“This is exciting,” I said, “but have you seen any impact… as in anything you can quantify?”  Continue reading

Make End-of-Training Action Plans Obsolete

Transfer of training: the Holy Grail for training professionals. So how do we get there?

Traditional training design includes a rockin’ presentation followed by an action plan and finally an evaluation form.

I’ve been reading a lot of Will Thalheimer’s blog lately. If you’re a training professional and you’re not familiar with Dr. Thalheimer’s work, you ought to be. He’s dedicated to the integration of evidence- and research-based training methods while de-bunking models, theories and traditional practices that fly in the face of scientific research (such as Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels of evaluation).

Recently, he wrote about building a better action plan. He calls it “triggered action planning”, and he cites research that suggests this method may “double the likelihood that our learners actually apply what they’ve learned.” Double the likelihood that learners will apply what they’ve learned! Not too shabby.

When I shared this idea with a co-worker, she told me that she liked this idea… though she didn’t like this idea as much as the idea of eliminating the action plan altogether. She asked: why not send our trainees on their way with a work product they’ll be able to use as soon as they get back to their offices?

She reminded me of our organization’s Presentation Skills training. We don’t ask the participants to complete an action plan, we ask them to put everything they learned during the day’s session together in order to craft a lesson plan they’ll be able to use when they return to their offices.

The traditional action plan is well-intentioned, but not very effective. With the Triggered Action Plan, Will Thalheimer has built a much better and potentially more effective mouse trap. Giving your learners an opportunity to build something they’ll use as soon as they get back to the office, well, that might just be the key to ensuring new skills are transferred directly onto the job.

Interested in a transfer of training case study? Read this: Transfer of Training: A Case Study

What advice would you give to this SME?

Last week, a colleague had an unfortunate run-in with technology at the start of his presentation. What’s one piece of advice you’d share with this subject matter expert?

“I had been asked to deliver a 30-minute lecture on the anatomy of the eye and I was concerned about two things:

1)      How on Earth would I fill up a 30-minute block of time on this subject?

2)      How on Earth am I supposed to present on this topic when there will be eye surgeons in the audience? They’ve forgotten more about the eye than I could ever teach.

I put together a slide deck and I rehearsed my session. I probably delivered this session in front of the mirror about 10 or 15 times before I had to take the stage. Not wanting to read the text on the slides verbatim, I wrote out a script for each slide on a piece of paper. If I got lost (or if I was hit with a sudden bout of stage fright), my plan was to simply refer to this paper in order to get back on track. It was written in the way that I talk, so if I had to read it, I was hoping it would at least sound natural.

The moment of truth arrived. The session moderator introduced me. I took the podium. The computer on which my slides were loaded had “gone to sleep”, but I had the password to log back in to the computer. I entered the login and the computer told me: “Invalid password.”

I entered the password again, and I got the same message. I was starting to see a disturbing trend. Technical staff from the conference rushed the stage. Everyone was trying to figure the problem out. Nobody was having success. I grabbed my own computer which also had the PowerPoint file. I entered my login.

Invalid password!

The session moderator announced a 15-minute break. After mor fiddling and anxious moments, we were able to bring up my PowerPoint slides. The break ended.

Thrown off by the technical difficulties, I referred to my script to get started. I found that I couldn’t look away! The script was like a beautiful siren, singing me a song as I navigated the treacherous oceans of the presentation.

Twenty minutes later I was done. I had read my script verbatim from start to finish.

Not my finest (one third of an) hour.”

Below, two experienced learning and development professionals offer their insights. What would you say? Use the comments section below to share your own thoughts about what to do the next time an SME finds themselves in a similar situation.

Priscilla Shumway

Senior National Trainer, The Bob Pike Group

First: Start with humor: Ask the audience: How many of you have ever experienced technical problems such as this? Anyone care to share a quick episode? (Do this while the techies are trying to fix it.)

Second:  Explain that the purpose of the session is to review the anatomy of the eye and that you’d like to honor the experience and knowledge in the room. Ask the audience to turn to the person next to them and come up with their top three facts that they would present if they were up on stage. This would buy time and involve your audience while the technical issues are addressed.

Take comments from 4 or 5 pairs. If the technical problems are not fixed at that point, take a 15 minute break.  Once your slides are back up and running you can go through the slides and recapture what the audience said, using names of audience members who stated that fact. For example: “As Dr. Morris stated, here is…”

Third: End with humor. “Thank you all for making my presentation even more stellar than it would have been if all the technology had been working!”

Michelle Baker

Founder & Strategist, Phase(Two)Learning

Yikes! Doubts about subject matter expertise and technical difficulties.

I think most of us have been there. Although it seems hard to believe, I think overcoming a technical mishap is easier to overcome.  Typically, an audience is more forgiving because most can relate to the love/hate relationship with technology!  The tougher scenario is wading through content when there’s a little voice of doubt speaking into your ear.

First: Stories are more memorable than facts.  Sure, storytelling is a fine art, but it’s one that can be mastered. When you are faced with facilitating a session that is outside your scope of expertise, look for stories that support the facts you are presenting. Find an example. Find a success story. Find an organization that is doing something interesting that you can share with the group. It’s easier for you to remember what ABC Company did than it is for you to learn 1001 things about a subject (that your audience probably already knows).  As you share the story, point out the relevant, key facts that align with the topic.

Second: Throw it back to the group.  This is tricky, especially in an auditorium. On the other hand, this can be an effective way to make a presentation interactive and take the focus away from the facilitator! After sharing your key points (with or without looking at your notes!), ask a reflective or discussion-based question (for example: what does the Bowman’s layer have to do with cornea transplants?). Give the audience a few minutes to discuss and then debrief in the larger group.

Third: Start and end on a strong note. Kick off the session with a strong introduction. End with a memorable point or story. Reinforce the benefit of what you’ve shared. Above all, have confidence!  A presenter with confidence will always have more credibility.

You Can Lead Them To Elearning, But You Can’t Make Them Learn

Elearning modules can be as instructionally-sound, engaging and slick as possible, but if staff aren’t using these modules then these well-designed and packaged learning experiences make as much noise for your organization as a tree that falls in the forest without anyone around to hear it.

Companies spend thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on elearning development each year. Yesterday I shared a case study about the struggles of my own organization in getting people to enroll and complete courses that we’ve invested in. It’s not just the story of my own organization, but similar stories can be told across the country and around the world by project managers and human resource departments responsible for elearning roll-outs.

In an effort to take a closer look on how to make the investment in the design and roll-out of elearning programs, I have asked several experts with deep elearning background to share their insights on my case study. Yesterday, Mike Culligan, Director, Last Mile Learning at LINGOs took a page from effective dieting strategies to offer three strategies for more effective elearning adoption.

Today, Nicole Legault, Community Manager for Articulate has weighed in:

When, as e-learning developers, we ask ourselves “why” employees don’t complete an e-learning course it’s important to look at factors that drive job performance; this means identifying the specific reasons why the e-learning is not being completed. By addressing the “why”, you address the root cause of the problem. There could be several reasons why the e-learning is not being completed, but based on the scenario presented, here are a few possibilities:

  • Lack of motivation or incentive: How strong is the incentive to complete the e-learning, and how much do the incentives really matter to the employee. What are the consequences for not completing the e-learning? In this case, if the supervisor is also struggling to fulfill his commitment to complete the elearning, intentionally or not, he is sending a message that there are higher priorities.
  • Lack of time: Do the employees have the necessary time available to perform this task? Professional development can’t be an afterthought. If the task keeps getting pushed back or re-scheduled due to other commitments and meetings, this could indicate that there is a lack of time to get everything done. Again, it also indicates it is not a high priority. And once professional development becomes an actual priority, employees need to be provided with the time to complete it.
  • Lack of feedback: The original case study revolved around a series of elearning modules focused on project management. Are the learners ever given feedback about how they are doing with regards to their current project management performance?  Sometimes receiving feedback from the right person can really drive job performance.

Elearning offers a flexible way to deliver professional development, but simply making it available to employees will not necessarily lead to completion or transfer of learning. Motivation, time and specific, meaningful feedback are just a few factors that could be driving the lack of completion of the e-learning modules.

When Elearning Fizzles (A Case Study)

My boss and I have been wanting to attend a course on project management for some time and were looking forward to a week-long workshop later this month. Until it was cancelled. So we made a pact to complete a series of elearning modules that covered the same content. We agreed to meet weekly to check in and share key learnings from the various modules until we completed the course and passed the accompanying exam for certification. Following is a recap of our experience plus expert commentary on how to move forward.

The Situation

Realizing we wouldn’t be able to attend a specific project management course, my boss and I chose to enroll in an 8-module elearning course that covered the same content. At the end of the course a certification exam would be waiting for us. More than “certification,” our motivation for completing this course was twofold:

1)      To assess our organization’s current project management processes and identify ways to improve the way we organize our project-based work, and

2)      To investigate how we could better use elearning as a professional development tool for the rest of our team who are generally too busy to miss work for a week in order to attend an instructor-led training course.

What Happened

To kick off our learning alliance, we put a series of weekly check-ins on our Outlook calendars and blocked off time on our calendars to dedicate to completing these elearning modules. We were ready to go!

And then a work trip happened.

And several important meetings bumped the time we had initially allocated to complete the elearning modules.

An important meeting that will take place in Tokyo next April needed to be planned.

When the time came for our first check in, neither of us had completed the first two modules. We re-scheduled our check-in and re-committed to our intentions of completing the elearning. Others things came up. Last night I meekly sent another meeting cancellation notice to my boss suggesting we re-schedule our check-ins until after Christmas when we both have more time to focus on completing the elearning.

Analyzing the Situation

Elearning has not been a strong part of our organizational or team culture, and getting into a disciplined habit of setting aside time to complete specific modules isn’t something we’ve been able to achieve yet. Earlier this month, I posted a case study of an incredibly effective training experience that led to immediate transfer of knowledge and skills to my day-to-day routine, and I pointed to three key factors that led to the effectiveness of the training:

1)      Supervisor Support

2)      Immediate Application

3)      Excellent Training Design & Delivery

In the context of this rapidly fizzling elearning experience, I certainly have my supervisor’s support – he’s in this with me. One of our key motivating factors is to revise our current project management processes, so there is an immediate and important opportunity for application… though to be sure, this is not an urgent priority. The design of the elearning modules follows a story narrative and is certainly more engaging than many other elearning modules that I’ve taken in the past.

Expert Commentary: Mike Culligan, Director, Last Mile Learning, LINGOS

There is no guaranteed strategy to ensure course completion.  While the three conditions mentioned in the case study are strong predictors of success (supervisor support, immediate application and high quality design/delivery), clearly, they were not enough.  In some ways, learning is like dieting – you know there are clear and proven benefits, but it is incredibly hard to start and stay on the program.  So, as a next step, why not borrow three strategies that dieters have used for years:

  • Incentives: Provide a reward once certification is attained. Perhaps a day off is appropriate since it represents only 25% of the time it would have taken to attend the training in a face-to-face environment.
  • Competition: The first of the two of you to successfully complete your certification gets a reward such as a free lunch certificate.
  • Disincentives: Dieters find that one of the biggest motivators is when they are forced to do something they don’t want to do.  A third strategy might be to set a deadline for completion of a module, or the certification.  If you are unable to meet the deadline, you are forced to give a donation to an organization whose mission stands against everything you believe in (such as a political PAC or candidate with whom you absolutely disagree).

Think you can diagnose what might be leading to the fizzle of this particular elearning experience? Share your diagnosis in the comments section below.

Transfer of Training: A Case Study

Several weeks ago I had an opportunity to attend a day-long training session called Hiring Winners which was delivered by a facilitator from Washington Employers. And over the next month an amazing thing happened. I found that I was immediately using concepts and skills developed during this session. Following is a brief description of how this course seems to have hit upon the Holy Grail of training and development: actual skills transfer from the training room to every day practice.

The Situation

Working for a rapidly growing organization, our HR team offered the opportunity for hiring managers to spend a day focused on our recruiting and hiring skills. This presented two immediate benefits:

1)      general professional development on an immediate need, and

2)      development of a common, organization-wide experience and language when it comes to recruiting and hiring as we go forward

The Training

Every participant was given a manual as the day started and we spent the day working our way through the manual. The course design included lecture, small group activities, large group discussions and role plays.

The Transfer of the Training

Probably the most essential element of the session was a series of small group activities in which we were asked to develop a hiring plan and to develop behavior-based interview questions for an actual job for which we would soon be recruiting and hiring. The real-life nature of this activity and opportunity to leave the workshop with an actual plan that could be implemented right away led me to use these tools the following week.

A colleague of mine from India happened to be in town when this course was offered and brought some of her key learnings back to share with our co-workers in New Delhi. Immediately upon her return, she led a 60-minute session in the Delhi office to share highlights and to begin finding ways to transfer the lessons for our India-based context. The team then decided on and implemented several improvements to our ongoing hiring process in India. The team will have a longer session to discuss key concepts from this course after the new year.

Why this Course Stuck (when so many other courses and workshop manuals simply gather dust on someone’s desk or bookshelf)

There were several key factors that led to the immediate application and transfer of skills from our training room to our day-to-day routine.

1)      Supervisor Support. My supervisor also attended this session and asked our team to begin using these new skills. He also set the expectation that lessons learned would be shared with other team members – both in the US and in India – who were unable to attend this session.

2)      Immediacy. In espousing his theory on how adults learn best, Malcolm Knowles insisted that adult learners thrive when the education they receive can solve an immediate problem. As our organization (and more specifically, as my team) grows, we’re using hiring skills every day. This course allowed us an opportunity to re-visit our current process and make improvements in the moment during the actual training session. And with interviews already on my Outlook calendar, this was the perfect time to develop more effective interview questions.

3)      Facilitation and Course Design. The facilitator was prepared, had obviously given this presentation in the past, provided a smooth delivery, and offered plenty of time for small and large group discussions. She delivered a course that was designed to offer three things that were of immense value to us: new content, a forum for staff from across the entire organization to discuss issues and align on processes, and an opportunity to either revise or create new ways to recruit and hire top notch candidates.

Will our organization realize the return on the investment we were seeking when we brought Washington Employers in to facilitate this workshop? It’s too early to tell. But if an early indicator is whether or not people actually use the skills they learned in the training room, then we seem to be off to an unusually good start.

Know someone who could use some help designing learning experiences that will transfer from the training room into the real world? Pass this article along!

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