What Happens After Training: Strategies to Strengthen Application and Internalization of Learning

by Wendy Tan


Often after my training workshops, I check with participants and find that only a few have applied their learning in their work or home. I am stumped by how people would attend training, spend precious time and money and yet not apply what they have learned. Is it because I am a poor trainer? I checked with a senior trainer and found out that she has seen similar situations and in fact seemed to have accepted this as a reality. So while I can grow as a better trainer, I do not think this would solve the problem. When I think about the training workshops that I have attended, I am very selective and often talk to the trainer to ensure I am signing up for a useful workshop, because more important than money is my time. Anything I spend time on takes me away from my family, so I am careful about my selection. After the workshop, I actively apply the learning consciously and unconsciously in work and at home.

One of the most common reasons I have heard from participants for the limited application is the lack of opportunities. It seems that these participants are waiting for an auspicious project or new client or something out of the ordinary to happen to apply the skills. It’s like when this golden opportunity comes about, suddenly everything they do would be different and they would be a different person, because they would be using their new skills. However, instead what tends to happen without prior practice however small, is they stay within their comfort zone and revert to their usual ways. It is the illusion of waiting for a good opportunity.

Another common reason is the lack of time. What this tells me is that learning and using new skills is not a priority. We always have time for what we decide to be important. Yet another reason for not applying the learning is the uncertainty and risk involved in doing anything new. Questions such as, “What will happen if I do this differently?”, “How will my boss, colleagues or clients react?”, “What if I fumble?” or “What if I forget the next step in the process?” These are valid questions and yet there are not useful in applying new learning. The last reason is perhaps the lack of desire and the choice not to apply the learning. Perhaps only this reason is valid, because it’s a personal choice and if your choice is ‘no’, being honest about it relieves one of unnecessary burden.

For the prior three reasons – lack of opportunity, lack of time and discomfort with the uncertainty and risk involved, here are some thoughts, although they may not change anything you do, but just oblige me anyway and read on. Imagine a snowball, how does it start? It starts small, it rolls down the hill, gathers momentum, becomes a big ball and culminates in an avalanche. Similarly think of Nigeria Falls, how does it start? With a trickle of water, flowing into the creeks, streams, rivers and several rivers gather, and you can complete the rest of the story. Everything starts small. If there was no small snowball or trickle of water, there would be no avalanche or Nigeria Falls. So start small, in the training context that means, use your new skills in small ways, rather than think of perfect opportunities for applying everything. This could mean in your everyday meetings with colleagues, clients and bosses. Some may tease and say, “So, you have just come from another workshop.” So what? Afterall, your new skills could benefit them and maybe they are envious you’re moving along! In addition, most skills we learn at work, such as giving feedback and being assertive can be applied at home in the way we speak to our spouse and children. Afterall, we are the same person at work and at home, so why not integrate new learning in all aspects of your life?

Another suggestion is to visualize yourself using your new skills. What happens in the outer world is an expression of our inner world. There was an experiment that compared two groups of basketball players – one group practiced throwing and the other group practiced throwing and visualized themselves doing it. The latter group had 8% gain over the former group. Even if you did not use the skills perfectly in some situations, visualize how you would do it instead. In this way, you are teaching yourself and reinforcing the new skills. Mope if you must about the less than perfect performance, but it’s probably more useful to focus attention on future opportunities and improvement.

In addition, map out for yourself the various stages of proficiency in the use and integration of new learning. What would you be doing, seeing, hearing and feeling when you are at the novice, intermediate and expert stages? Describe that vividly. By doing this, you are creating a future in your own mind and attracting yourself towards it. Mapping the various stages of proficiency also gives you feedback on where you are and what is needed to proceed to higher levels.

The use of these ideas above depends on one’s attitude towards learning. Borrowing from the world of Neuro-lingustic Programming, there is no failure, only feedback. Failure happens when we give up. In this learning process, it takes courage to make mistakes, take risks, go out of your comfort zone, be embarrassed, ask silly questions and pick oneself up from so-called failure. Courage comes from clarity and conviction of one’s choice. So after all is said, the key question is, “What is the price I am willing to pay for my learning and transformation?” The answer to this question clarifies the path ahead and the outcome becomes inevitable.

Written by Wendy Tan from The Flame Centre.
September 2008

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