Do your training programs have what it takes to not just teach new skills, but also to inspire attendees to put those skills into action after the course is completed? Here are some tried-and-true methods to ensure that your adult learners will actually take what they learned at your training meeting and use it to improve their work once they get back home.

Get Into Their Heads
The first thing to do is to make sure that your training is targeted to the real learning needs of your participants. This means that it must be based on the actual problems they face in their daily work, not the problems you think they have, or those that others say they have, or what you’ve read is a problem for people in your participants’ positions. Go to the horses’ mouths to find out what they need to learn, and then develop a program that addresses their needs. It sounds obvious, but a surprisingly large number of planners don’t do it. If it’s corporate-mandated education, say on a new product line or company policy or on new regulatory developments in the insurance industry, find ways to show attendees how this information can be used in their daily environment—preferably, how it will make their lives easier and increase their income.

While your participants may share common work problems, remember that you may have more than one type of learner in the room—some may prefer lectures, for example, while others will thrive on more hands-on types of activities. Research has shown that when you compare programs that offer only one type of activity, say a lecture, with others that combine lectures with interactive sessions, worksheets, reflective activities, and other elements, the impact on participant behavior increases dramatically with the multiple-learning-style approach—even doubling in some cases. An ongoing series of multiformatted educational activities will have a better shot at reaching each attendee in a way that he or she can best learn.

Include interactive activities, such as case studies, threaded discussions, and learning communities. If attendees are sitting passively in their chairs, they are not as engaged in working with the information that they are supposed to be learning. Some participants may balk at the idea of interactive sessions—after all, they’ve gotten this far with the good old talking-heads lecture—but once they experience interactivity, most will admit it was more effective, even if it did make them feel uncomfortable at first.

Do It Yourself
If you want to have your audience put the training into practice, especially if they’ve been doing something a certain way for a long time, provide a way for them to experience the information themselves. They need to be able to compare and contrast with the way they’re currently working before they move into a new way of doing things. That takes interactivity and hands-on experience using the new information in practical, realistic ways.

It also helps to provide time for feedback and self-reflection. Give lots of opportunities for attendees to gauge their practices against their peers’, to think about what they’re doing with the information they’ve received, and to figure out how they can adapt the training to their work.

Learning aids, such as handouts, cheat sheets, pocket cards, and other physical reminders that support the training also are highly effective. They could take the form of learning tools, such as a copy of standardized guidelines for a particular situation or process. You also could give them some job aides, such as a pocket card or an easy-reference manual, or an informative Web site to turn to for answers.

Also, consider using an audience-response system. Participants get immediate feedback, and they can see how their answer compares to others in the audience. Another good idea is to ask attendees to commit to implementing what they have learned by having them fill out learning contracts. Then follow up several months after the training meeting to see if a change in their behavior actually has occurred.

There’s also a big push these days toward multipurpose meeting content. Putting the content up on a Web site or sending it out in a fax newsletter isn’t a very interactive way to expose it to a wider group of participants. But if you put the content into case-study format and ask people to come up with solutions, or even just ask questions, it becomes more interactive and engaging. And it’s a good way to follow up with people who attended the meeting, giving them a multiple-activity intervention instead of a one-shot meeting. This gives participants more opportunities to interact with the concept and to practice and reflect on what they learned.

Keep in mind, though, that not every program needs all these elements. The simple lecture that provides a one-way information flow from the speaker to the audience is fine for programs that only want to convey information—just don’t expect that your attendees will put that information to use once they leave. And it’s not practical, or even possible, to incorporate all these elements into every training or educational meeting. But for those meetings where improvement and action are desired outcomes, the more of these elements you can incorporate, the better your chances of making a difference in your attendees’ real worlds.

Sidebar—Case in Point: ICPA Forum
The ICPA Educational Forum design team applied many of these adult-education principles to their July educational forum at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. To begin with, the program was designed by people with intimate knowledge of the problems attendees face in their jobs, because the members of the design committee, in their day jobs, do the same thing. Forum Chairman Gary Pearson, AON Service Corp.; Leanne Acton, CMM, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co.; Laura Baukol, Allianz Insurance Co.; Melissa Cohill, Valmark Securities; John Touchette, CMP, John Hancock Financial Services; Pam Ferguson, Ritz-Carlton Hotels; and Karen Hopkinson, ICPA headquarters, made sure the activities reflected what insurance conference planners need to know.

To fully engage participants, they used different educational formats, from lecture-style, audience participation, and panel discussions to an interactive brainstorming session. They made sure that session leaders provided handouts, and they gathered information generated by the roundtable discussions to collate and make available on ICPA’s Web site, www.icpanet.com. The meeting’s designers provided ample time for peer-to-peer discussions on best practices, methods, and cost-saving tips; plus a plethora of networking and social functions. And by involving the session presenters in all the social activities, participants also had more one-on-one time with the experts.

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