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Crush the Forgetting Curve: How to Drive Sustainability in Your T&D Initiatives

By Annamarie Lang

 I had the opportunity to lead the Design and Drive Sustainability sessions at recent client events in Dallas, Atlanta, and New York City. We talked through the challenges that produce the “forgetting curve” (the progressive loss of learning over time) and discussed how we can sustain and improve the impact of training and development initiatives. The sessions were high-energy and participants shared great ideas across four main challenge areas: internal marketing, measurement, application tools, and engagement of leaders of learners. Here are some highlights with ideas on how to negate the curve.

  1. Promote from within (how to create an internal marketing and communication strategy)

    Many participants didn’t realize that they needed to be marketing experts as well as learning and development gurus! Without effective marketing and communication, they cannot reach their desired training audience or, as many participants noted, sustain the excitement for a well-designed program.

    Many suggestions around internal marketing had to do with being creative and using a variety of communication vehicles when reaching out to learners. For example, instead of marketing via email, how about using a short, YouTube-style video? Other ideas included creating a learning council, recruiting a senior leader as a spokesperson, and incorporating development communication into onboarding processes.
How to Drive Sustainability in Your T&D Initiatives
  1. From numbers to insights (how to work with data + evaluation + measurement)

    Collecting data for a training initiative may determine whether that program ends swiftly or continues to be funded beyond its initial pilot stage. You can never have enough evidence of a program’s success, so understanding what you’re measuring—and, more importantly, why you’re measuring—will prove invaluable.

    This discussion raised as many questions as it did answers. Many of the participants asked questions such as How should I be using the data (to make changes and improvements, or measure ROI) or What are we measuring (e.g., turnover or completion rates). Exploring the questions and offering thoughtful responses helped us to better understand how to use measurement to illustrate the value of training programs. Sometimes bringing your stakeholders more data than they thought they wanted or needed can help demonstrate importance.
  2. In it for the long haul (how learners can practice and apply skills back in the workplace)

    Sometimes we underestimate how learners like to receive and apply information. And, even if we aren’t ready to accept new technology or change how we communicate, it’s important to be aware of how people like to learn.

    During this challenge discussion, we discovered just how many options there are to help learners apply and sustain their skills, e.g., mobile learning, social media, simulations, self-directed activities, etc. But to paraphrase the wise words of my mom: We shouldn’t let our eyes be bigger than our stomachs. Although all of our options may look good, we need to exercise care when planning which methods to use.

    Other thoughts about skills application included assigning learning partners to do various interim activities to add accountability, having learners complete a practical application project, and adding in fun games and competitive challenges to create excitement. All of us know that the primary learning event is not the main event. It is all about application and people doing things better!
  3. Winning the battle for manager buy-in (how leaders of learners reinforce development)

    Manager buy-in and engagement kept popping up in our discussions; we discovered that making these a reality can be a bit daunting. Gaining manager buy-in is about building the business case and showing how development can help drive the business (easier said than done).

    A concrete how-to is to offer leaders of learners an abridged version of courses for skill building or a template that will explain what they can do as managers—before, during, and after learning—to delineate responsibilities. Asking stakeholders to help build the program or facilitate various check-in meetings to evaluate how skills are being applied were also enthusiastically received suggestions.

All of the ideas from our discussions just begin to scratch the surface of how to crush the forgetting curve associated with training and development programs. Download our Sustainability Toolkit for tools and templates that you can use immediately—and let me know how they work for you!

Annamarie Lang is a senior consultant who has a passion for creating holistic approaches to training and development.

Posted: 01 Jul, 2015,
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