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New Techniques in Learning that Make Training Stick and Drive Performance

Making Learning Stick

By David Perring, Fosway

Supercharge your organisation’s training with social and collaboration to make the learning memorable.

Arguably, supporting people through behavioural change is one of the most important drivers for Learning & Development teams today. But it doesn’t just happen because someone has attended a course or clicked through some digital learning. The only way to truly understand if people are changing is through feedback from others, which is why a continuous, social approach to learning has become business-critical for L&D.

Why Do You Need to Make Learning Stick?

Change is the watchword now. People need to learn at ever increasing speeds in ever changing environments. According to Fosway research, over 70 percent of organisations are already underway with their digital transformation of learning, but more broadly, the world of work is changing and along with it, working habits and worker expectations.

The millennial cliché is overplayed, but the demographic of the workforce is undeniably changing. Gen Z is on its way, but actually the aging workforce is a bigger trend that needs L&D’s attention.

Digital Learning Realities-research
Figure 1. The changing workforce demographic.

The different profile of workers (and therefore) learners coupled with today’s technology means that people are demanding to work and learn in different ways. And that desire to learn should not be underestimated. It really matters. In fact, having the opportunity to always learn new skills is the #1 reason why people want to join organisations today, according to our latest HR Realities Research. This represents an exciting opportunity for L&D. Coupled with the fact that nearly 90 percent of learning professionals see skills gaps becoming more significant, demand for L&D to show what it can do should be at an all-time high.

The war for talent is as real today as it was when McKinsey first coined the phrase in the 1990s. And if the L&D team can grasp this opportunity to show its impact, then it a should be positioned as a key component of an organisation’s employee value proposition.

But the reality is that L&D currently does too little to create truly great, continuous, collaborative experiences that change behaviour, drive performance and make learning stick. From this year’s “Digital Learning Realities” research we found that organisations aren’t necessarily maximizing their training efforts.

Figure 2. Where organisations are failing in their learning strategies. 

The focus on content and one-off interventions (whether digital or face-to-face) continues to be pervasive in L&D. Coaching, mentoring, social, ongoing collaboration and connecting to experts are not features that are built into learning experiences from the outset often enough. Ironically, afterthe learning intervention is when learners need help the most,such as when they’re trying to apply new skills on the job—but it is at this point they are all too often abandoned to get on with it by themselves. Not helpful or likely to make learning stick.

How to Make Learning Stick

1. Know that all the best learning is really “social learning,” and design it around collaboration.

The concept of social learning has been debated by education experts in more detail than we can do justice to here. Interestingly, since some have begun to apply it in an organisational/corporate context, it is increasingly interpreted as “social media for learning,” which is a growing trend but not quite the same thing.

Ultimately, social learning can occur in lots of different ways, both online and offline. Sharing tacit knowledge of what works, how to get things done, enabling continuous improvement and providing feedback has been around for millennia.

Figure 3. Learning experiences need to be designed around an Agile learning mix that puts learners at the centre.


It’s important to step back from the hype and the tools in order to think about how to facilitate this approach. It’s what people often naturally do anyway; L&D just needs to help them along a bit by engaging learners not in L&D but in what they can do actively with their teams and experts in the workplace.

2. Think “learning cycles” and how they can power continuous learning.

Thinking about learning as an ongoing cycle instead of a series of one-off events is a useful way to appreciate the opportunities that exist to reinforce learning and really make it stick. The Fosway PLASMA Learning Cycle is a very simple way of looking at this, with the learning process starting in any one of the segments shown in the figure.

Figure 4. The on-going cycle of learning.

The PLASMA learning cycle encompasses these phases:

  • Plan: What do I need to know/understand/be able to do?
  • Learn: How can I learn that knowledge/develop that skill/build that proficiency?
  • Apply: How am I using my learning?
  • Sustain: What am I doing to consistently achieve the right levels of skills and performance?
  • Measure: How well am I doing? Am I on or off target?
  • Analyse: Where should I be going next?

As simple as this model is, it is very flexible. It can apply to situations that only last a matter of minutes or cover a process that lasts months. The challenge is to keep the learning cycle moving for as long as it is necessary—until people reach the desired levels of confidence and competence. And hard-baked in is an expectation of being a social learner, showing that you know and getting feedback from peers, experts and anyone who touches your work.

3. Nudge learners at each step of their learning cycle to build and develop higher performance.

Thinking about learning as an ongoing process or cycle in this way helps to build more engaging experiences, based on actions, nudges, jeopardy and social pressure/support and personal motivation, even gamification and recognition through scoring boards or digital badges. Each stage can be designed to incorporate nudges to keep the learning process going. And these aren’t just for learners! Managers, peers and other colleagues could—and should—be part of the process to generate the feedback and social elements that will help learners progress.

Historically, too few learning platforms have supported this vision. Basic communication tools have served to broadcast rather than foster an ongoing learning relationship or dialogue. The result: Organisations have found it challenging to create social learning programmes, learning campaigns or a continuous learning journey.

What is needed is an approach that treats learners like consumers, and helps create a relationship with their needs, desires and habits so that learning becomes compulsive—for example, nudging learners like a sports tracking app might do. There is an opportunity to create “learning coaches” that use artificial intelligence and behavioural frameworks to drive our engagement and stimulate us to take our learning to the next level. Strangely, it’s not something that there aren’t good reference models for. Digital marketing has been taking this revolution in managing consumer experience forward at an amazing pace in recent years. So, there are already useful reference models for what is possible.

4. Think of learners like consumers and touch them when they need help most—when they are applying and sustaining learning in the workflow.

What L&D should be doing is thinking like a consumer brand; using insights into learners as individuals to trigger engagement and to build the habits that make learning a “go to” destination like so many mobile apps (such as Strava) have become. This means managing a relationship with learners and learning actions across the whole learning cycle, not just managing learning events and digital resources.

It isn’t enough to say you’re swapping to an informal or social approach to learning and declare that formal learning is dead. It’s not enough to talk about simply moving from courses to resources or adopt a 70:20:10 approach that merely trades one content type for another. L&D needs to support the whole learning journey. To truly supercharge learning, we must act now to create meaningful journeys between learning independently and reflecting, acting and socialising learning! Learning will only really change people’s behaviours and deliver transformative impact for organisations when it supports continuous learning across the full cycle, rather than glib titles and marketing type—be that social learning, mobile learning, learning experience, informal learning, 70:20:10 or something else—because each of these can become barriers to the creation of effective, ongoing learning and get in the way of making learning stick.

Get Started

The challenge is to prove that social learning can impact learning effectiveness and ultimately drive behaviour change and impact organisational performance. But L&D doesn’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Focus on specific use case scenarios.Find an opportunity to apply the PLASMA model, incorporating social learning elements that sit outside the formal deliver “learning” label. Maybe even slide under the radar and call the project “performance management” or “continuous improvement” to get things off the ground.
  • …Focus on a proof of concept. Assess the lessons learned from executing a new, more social approach. Choose carefully as pilots often turn into the blueprint for how things become “done around here.”
  • Remember senior stakeholder demandsHowever much of a nice-to-have this approach might be, there are business objectives that must be met. Risk ignoring these at your peril! The goal is to get stakeholders to buy in to what you’re doing, not tune out because the ball has been dropped elsewhere or this new approach puts too much of the status quo in jeopardy. Take people on this journey with L&D, regardless of their department or business silos.
  • Understand spaced learning—and how to lay down deep long-term memories in compressed timeframes when acquiring knowledge.

David Perring is the Director of Research for Fosway Group, Europe’s #1 HR analyst. For over 20 years, Fosway has analysed the realities of the workforce market, providing insights on the future of human resources, talent and learning. Fosway analysts work extensively with corporate clients to understand the inside story of the challenges they are facing and their real experiences with next-generation strategies, systems and suppliers. The consultancy’s independent vendor analysis also provides a vital resource when making decisions on innovation and technology. Contact Fosway at info@fosway.com or +44 (0)20 7917 1870.

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7 Industry experts provide sensible solutions about how you can identify and close nagging skills gaps in your organization.

The Ultimate Guide to Closing Skills Gaps—Fast - cover