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Ensuring the information participants learn is applied

Author: Dr Simon Moss


After training programs are completed, participants do not always apply the skills or information they acquired. This problem tends to diminish if facilitators and instructors apply the following principles:

Establishing expectations

Negotiating values

Step 1. Early in the program, facilitators should initiate a discussion on the values or ideals they would like to pursue or achieve during the workshops. Initially, they could present a set of potential values. They could, for example, propose the workshops should:

Step 2. Participants should then be granted the opportunity to modify or delete these values as well as append other priorities or ideals.

When participants reflect upon abstract values, rather than concrete goals, they focus more on future aspirations than immediate duties (e.g., Forster, Friedman, & Liberman, 2004). This focus tends to diminish any anxiety or stress, promoting relaxation and composure (Higgins, 1987 & see Self discrepancy theory). Furthermore, in this state, individuals can apply the principles more flexibly and appropriately (Friedman & Forster, 2008).

Discussions before a topic begins

Personal memories of improvement and achievement

Step 1.Before a topic begins, such as a module on public speaking, participants should be asked to share strategies and practices they have already applied successfully to improve this skill. Perhaps they perform several mental exercises, designed to promote relaxation, before they speak in public.

In addition, if they have not been able to improve this skill, participants should propose some reasons that might have obstructed this endeavor. Perhaps they did not really want to develop this skill or received unsuitable guidance--guidance that contradicts the latest scientific insights on this topic.

When individuals reflect upon their capacity to change, they feel that competence and intelligence are malleable and flexible, not fixed or permanent (Poon & Koehler, 2006). As a consequence, they become more motivated to develop, rather than demonstrate, their expertise and competence (El-Alayli, 2006). In addition, they become more receptive to feedback (Dweck, Chui, & Hong, 1995 & see Implicit theories of malleability).

Discussions after a topic ends

Compatible behaviors

Step 1. After facilitators present a series of recommendations, participants should be invited to reflect upon previous times in which they engaged in similar practices. For example, suppose the facilitator recommends that participants reflect upon the aspirations they would like to reach in the future, instead of the duties they need to fulfill soon, before they attempt to solve problems. After they present this recommendation, participants should reflect upon times in which too focused their attention on future aspirations before resolving issues at work.

When individuals reflect upon practices they have undertaken before, they feel more committed to engage in similar behaviors in the future. That is, these memories seem to imply, albeit unconsciously, that perhaps they are already committed to these practices (Minjung & Fishbach, 2008). This sense of commitment increases the likelihood they will engage in these behaviors in the future.

Exercises after a topic ends

Plans to implement recommendations

Step 1. Instructors often recommend participants to engage in some behavior--such as concede of their faults to a colleague. After each recommendation, participants should be instructed first to imagine a time or context in which they could implement this suggestion. They might, for example, decide to implement this recommendation during their next meeting with their supervisor. Second, participants should imagine the location in which they are likely to implement this suggestion. Finally, they should consider some possible obstacles& for example, other peers, with whom they are less confident, might attend the meeting as well. They should imagine an activity they might undertake to overcome this obstacle, such as speak to this person privately or concede their fault anyway.

Individuals are more likely to implement a plan if they had previous imagined the time and place in which this behavior will be enacted (see Bayer & Gollwitzer, 2007). That is, these images or thoughts increase the likelihood the plan will be implemented effortlessly. If these images or thoughts are not formed, individuals need to focus their memory and attention on these plans, which is distracting and exhausting--undermining their performance on other tasks. Alternatively, if individuals do not focus their memory and attention on these plans, they are unlikely to implement the desired behaviors.

Exercises that influence policy

Induction training

Step 1. At some stage during the program, participants should be asked to record information or suggestions they feel should be presented to recent recruits, as part of induction training. For example, they might request the sentence "At this organization, we recognize that mistakes are part of learning and development" be included in the material that recruits receive during the first week. Alternatively, they might want to record a video in which they offer similar advice or demonstrate how they resolve conflict, for example.

When individuals undertake an activity in which the consequences are likely to persist indefinitely, and perhaps permanently, they recognize the task is meaningful. In these instances, individuals feel a sense of connection to a permanent entity or program, which confers a feeling of resilience or security (Gailliot, Stillman, Schmeichel, Maner & Plant, 2008). That is, they feel less vulnerable& their capacity to learn novel concepts improves.


Step 2. After completing some topic, participants should be encouraged to draft, and ultimately submit, a media release that announces a campaign their organisation would like to implement within 6 months. To develop this campaign, participants might apply knowledge they acquired in domains such as motivation, goals, and persuasion. A typical example might be a program that employs disabled individuals. Again, the sense of meaning and continuity this process affords enhances receptivity to novel solutions (Gailliot, Stillman, Schmeichel, Maner, & Plant, 2008).

Tangible prompts

Step 1. At some stage, facilitators should ask participants to specify between 4 and 10 skills or practices they have learnt during the workshop and would like to follow in the future. Next, participants should attempt to identify possible prompts or cues that would remind individuals to apply these practices in the workplace. For example, before negotiations, individuals should reflect upon their future aspirations, not their immediate duties. Perhaps a reference to their aspirations could appear on their business card, email signatures, product merchandise, or strategic documents, for instance. Finally, individuals should imagine themselves enacting the intended practice whenever they observe this cue or prompt.

These cues are likely to promote the desired behaviors, spontaneously and effortlessly, provided that participants had formed implementation intentions--images of the precise time and place in which they would like to execute some plan (Bayer & Gollwitzer, 2007).

Many opportunities are available to instil prompts and cues into the organization. In particular, during the workshops, facilitators could encourage participants to:

Reviewing and studying the material

Step 1. A few days or weeks before a workshop begins, participants should be encouraged to skim the course material first. In addition, they should be encouraged to read a couple of the later sections or topics--perhaps some sections or topics that seem to be comprehendible--in more detail.

When this approach is applied, participants are exposed to the same material at different times during the year. Consequently, they become more likely to remember the material later, called the spacing effect (Kornell, 2009).

Step 2. Three or four days after a workshop, participants should be encouraged to recall the material that was presented. If this task is simple, they should then attempt to recall material that was presented even earlier.

When people individuals strive to recall material that is difficult to remember, their capacity to retrieve this information in the future improves appreciably. However, when people attempt to recall material that is already prominent or accessible in their memory, their capacity to retrieve this information in the future does not improve (Agarwal, Karpizke, Kang, Roediger, & McDermott, 2008 & see also the testing effect).

Step 3. Whenever participants review their course notes, they should be encouraged to write questions that prompt concentration, motivation, and reflection, such as "Am I concentrating now", "Do I understand the main arguments on this page", and "Am I applying appropriate strategies to facilitate learning", on pieces of paper, like Post-it notes. After every 3 to 6 pages of their course material, they should insert one of these pieces of paper. They should then answer these questions as they read the material These prompts, when distributed across a study session, have been shown to improve learning and persistence (Sitzmann & Ely, 2010).

Creative suggestions


To ensure the content relates to am overarching framework, instructors could develop an acronym that includes the name of their client& for example, "ABC AIM" could represent six phases of leadership development, such as "Autonomy", "Bonds", "Connection", "Awareness", "Intuition", and "Musings".

Attachment style

To demonstrate the concept of attachment style (see Attachment theory), individuals could be asked to open their purse or wallet and observe a photograph--or stare at someone in the room. Afterwards, they could be asked to derive the word from the letters CO_PE _ _ TION. Staring at a supportive individual should activate a secure attachment style (McGowen, 2002), perhaps increasing the likelihood that individuals notice the term "Cooperation" rather than "Competition" (cf., Mikulincer, Shaver, Gillath, Nitzberg, 2005). Alternatively, they could be asked to walk around the room, until they feel like stopping. A secure attachment might also increase the likelihood that individuals stand closer to someone else (cf., Holland, Roeder, Van Baaren, Brandt, & Hannover, 2004).


Often games can be organized to demonstrate principles and to practice skills. Many games, however, are somewhat patronizing. Nevertheless, some games are more likely to be embraced than other games.

To illustrate, facilitators could construct a series of questions that assess whether participants have acquired knowledge about their organization. Questions could relate to when the organization was established, the values, mission, vision, share price, revenue, profit, and founder of this company as well as characteristics of competitors. When participants learn about their organization, they experience a sense of ownership or commitment (see O'Driscol, Pierce, & Coghlan, 2006), enhancing loyalty and engagement. Alternatively, participants might be asked to uncover qualities, interests, or other characteristics they share with other people in the room--similarities of which they were unaware before.

Second, one or two participants could be asked to specify some of their strengths, attributes, or interests they feel they seldom utilize in the workplace. The other participants are asked to uncover opportunities in which these individuals could apply these strengths, attributes, or interests. This procedure is then applied to all the other participants in sequence.

Third, facilitators could ask everyone to shift to another seat. Next, the facilitators could ask individuals to indicate whether they felt uncomfortable with this change. This discomfort might represent a preference towards conventions, which can stifle change and innovation.

Fourth, facilitators should develop a motto or adage they feel represents one of the principles they want to espouse, such as "The best leaders concede their worst faults". They should not, however, communicate this motto or adage. Instead, each participant should be allocated a piece of paper with one word from this motto, such as "the" or "best". Participants then need to interact with each other to uncover this motto.

Fifth, participants should be asked to identify the activities they always postpone, such as emails they never seem to answer. A discussion about why they defer these activities can uncover some interesting insights. Some participants defer activities that are stressful. They should be informed that deliberately completing stressful activities can promote resilience (Dienstbier, 1989 & see Physiological toughness). Other participants defer activities that relate to future aspirations rather than immediate duties--an inclination that can compromise creativity and negotiation ability (see Regulatory focus theory).

Sixth, participants could be asked to pass toilet paper around the room. They are permitted to tear off as many sheets as they like. Later, they are asked to answer a question, like "What are some of your faults". The number of answers must equal the number of sheets they tore from the roll.

Seventh, participants could be arranged in a circle and complete sentences like "Customers would be happier if...", "People leave because...", "I would like...". Each person shouts one word at a time.

Related topics

For further insights, see:


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Last Update: 5/15/2016