How to get the skills you learned in training used

This is the second of a series focused on how to transfer learning into on the job application and results from Practical Training Transfer.

Skills-based learning takes up a significant amount of the total training we do in any year. Most people don’t get very good at using skills because they don’t know how to prepare for skills training or how to practice skills effectively before they go live. Here’s how to practically get more of the skills from training used in work and life.

Why it’s important to take notice of this problem

Think of skills as a set of activities that you can put together and use in specific situations. These skill sets are seen in lots of different types of training such as presentations, negotiations, sales, or giving feedback.

Take presentation skills for example. To make a great presentation, we need to master basic planning and structure, slide formatting and picture and text arrangement, and speaking and posture. If a presenter can’t put all those skills together well the presentation will usually be below par.

The mistake that most people make is to think that once you’ve learned a set of skills you are good at using them. However, a lot of people will be assigned training, show up for it, go back to work and not perform the skills well. Which is why unstructured trial and error by learners leads to loss of time and money, and on a personal level can increase frustration and the tendency to give up.

The key reason why skills training often fails is a lack of structure and feedback about how learners are performing. Unlike the common myth, it doesn’t take 10,000 hours to perfect a skill, so how do we get good at using skills well in work?

How we overcome this problem at work

Practice is the key to honing skills and elevating them to the level where they are useful in the workplace. What we’ve discovered is that when left to their own devices, learners aren’t good at planning and carrying out practice sessions, especially when they are busy and need someone else to support them through the process. So, what we do is to create a structure and support system that takes the planning away from the learner. We do this using three tactics.

Firstly, we plan the whole structure for practice after the training. We tell people exactly how many practice sessions they need, who should attend, what needs to happen at each session and what the outcomes should be.

Secondly, we make all of the materials that should be used in the practice sessions both for the learner and for anyone supporting them. These include things like practice guides and checklists. We also give out performance support materials to use in the workplace between practice sessions.

Thirdly, we don’t just support the learner. We have to support the person helping with practice sessions. The main support person will usually be a manager, and there could be other peers or interested people in the mix too. We give them program guides, video instructions and ‘how to’ check lists.

Hints and tips about what you can do to combat this problem

Even if you are not taking negotiation or presentation training right now, you might still be trying to learn a new skill for work or for your personal life. If you’re thinking about doing that here are a few hints and tips about how to get more out of your training.

Start by investigating where you can get help from to give you support, advice and feedback. Even if you practice a skill well by yourself, there is no guarantee that you will do it right. At work finding those people is easy because they will be your boss and peers. Outside of work a friend, a family member or a community leader could give you advice or feedback if they are proficient at the skill you’re trying to improve.

Next, make a plan to do some practice. All you usually need for this is a calendar. Think about how much practice you might need or want to have and evenly space those sessions around your other plans. The main thing is to make a plan and stick to it. Forward planning achieves this better than dropping practice sessions into times when you are suddenly at a loose end.

As you go through your training it’s a good idea to create personalized application aids in the form of checklists, tools, video clips, etc. Anything that works well for you and can be easily accessed at the moment of need helps to support you as you try to use the skills between and after practice sessions.

Finally, think about how you can support the person giving you feedback and advice. Questions like “What do you think of this?”, or “Do you have any advice?” are too broad for people to be objective about. So, plan exactly what you would like to get advice about, tell the person in advance what they should look for and how you would like to receive the feedback. Making your requests specific not only helps you but it helps the other person to focus and give better feedback.

If you’re planning to do some skills training, remember that practice is the key to transferring learning into meaningful actions. So, whether you’re learning something for work or just for yourself, create a plan for practice, get someone you trust to help you and give them the support they need to make your practice sessions useful.

Good luck

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