Make it stick: How to take your best learning intentions and make them count

Jennifer Armstrong / January 2018

Good intentions are the perfect beginning to personal development, but aspiration alone is never enough. No matter how fired up or inspired teams are to take new skills or bright ideas back to work following training, it can often be all too difficult to put them into practice. How do you make the most of learning opportunities and guard against sliding back into old habits? We asked learning experts from across Google and our partners for their top tips for individuals and teams looking to make learning stick: before, during, and after the training itself.

Prepare and adapt

Everyone agreed on one thing right from the top: prepping for training beforehand makes all the difference. Kim Wylie, Google’s Global Lead for Cloud Change Management breaks that preparation down into four useful areas to think about before the session begins:

  • What can you read / watch to research background on the topic?
  • Why is it important for you to learn about this topic now??
  • How will  the new skills / knowledge benefit you and what positive impact will it have on your work?
  • What specific questions do you have about the application of the new knowledge in your day job?

Behind all of these key questions is the need to build a personal connection with the training. “When change or training is directed by someone else, people can feel that change is being ‘done’ to them,” says Kim. That means developing your sense of ownership of the program and clearly understanding the value to you personally can be vital, such as by personalising goals.

“Tie training and self-development into your own goals,” says John Mee who works on training with Google Partners. “Linking training to your personal progression is the perfect catalyst for trying new things.” Instead of looking at training as a tick-box exercise you need to get through in order to get back to your desk and regular routine, John suggests, see it as part of your progress and development.

Engage and ask questions

When it comes to face-to-face training, engagement is the key to successful learning, whether that’s asking questions, sharing feedback, discussing specific scenarios or making suggestions for how things could be improved.

“Go in there with an open mind,” says John. “If you have any preconceived ideas about what to expect, get rid of them. Sometimes you will attend trainings where you feel like you already have the answers, but if you allow yourself to take a step back and look at things objectively, it can be a transformational experience.” While you observe, take notes, suggests John. “Have a list of your objectives on hand so you can reference them throughout the training. By matching your learnings back to something more tangible, it allows you to turn theory into action.”

Being present, absorbing information and engaging with the subject is part of the special power of offline training, as Martina Robens herself learned from running Google Digital Garage courses in Germany. “Ask a lot of questions. Discuss issues with the trainer and other participants.”

“Even negative engagement can be helpful,” says Kim. “Trainers know that people complaining have passion for the subject at hand, and that’s a good thing.” Kim notes that the most constructive criticisms are those that demand practical answers, such as:

  • What are the reasons this training needs to happen?
  • What will I gain from it?
  • How will the behavior learned from these sessions be recognised by the company?

Fight “active forgetting”

“Google’s retail training is built on a burst and boost model,” says Verne Smith, who regularly trains Google retail teams. “That means we develop quick, concise, information-rich training ‘bursts’ which we follow over a period of weeks with ‘boost’ interactions designed to maximize retention and application of learning.” Each brief “boost” typically takes between five and 30 seconds to complete. It might be a customer scenario, opinion poll, or just a quick knowledge check, but it keeps the knowledge active, relevant, and feeling useful.

The burst and boost system is so effective because memory works in mysterious ways, as Verne explains. “It’s easy to think about forgetting as a failure of memory, but it’s much more complicated than that. Forgetting is an active process: the brain is constantly getting rid of useless information. That’s why our boosts don’t just reiterate knowledge: they stimulate processing and synthesis of the training material, because information that’s retrieved and actively applied becomes useful and is less likely to be forgotten.”

If your course doesn’t come with its own programme of boosts, try creating your own small exercises and callbacks to the training to keep things fresh. Reinforcing your learning works best in a group, too. “Ask for support and help from each other” says Kim, “and call out the old behaviours when they’re seen, so you can encourage each other to move towards expertise.”

Spread the knowledge!

If you’ve engaged and learned and you still want more, why not spread the skills you’ve learned within your organisation? Kunal Pattany, Digital Marketing Manager at Kantar TNS, was inspired by his experience learning from the Google Digital Academy’s Squared Guru programme - two weeks full-time - to set up his own series of talks. Digital Firestarters, that help give teams the knowledge to talk about the digital world with confidence. Now Kunal streams his local training sessions in the UK across the world through YouTube and livestreams.

In his journey from pupil to future digital evangelist, here are the three top tips Kunal has learned:

  • Be fearless: “Don’t have any inhibitions about what you’re going to provide.”
  • Be authentic: “Be real, so don’t try and copy anyone else. Make your own ideas and own the space around them.”
  • Be transparent: “Be open to sharing information with others.”

If learning is about engagement, training is about adding confidence to the mix. “I kept these three points in my mind,” says Kunal, “and they empowered me to start something that might make a change.”

Inspired to get started? Google’s Skillshop e-learning paths are ready wherever and whenever you are. Start with mobile-first transformation or search for a specific topic.

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