Practice Makes Perfect: 4 Ways to Make Learning Stick
Organizations work hard to get their people trained to perform their jobs effectively and contribute to the company’s success.
But all too often, that training stops when the learner leaves the classroom (or the Zoom call). The employee must then use trial and error to apply their newfound knowledge.
There is a better way—practice. Research shows that practicing what you’ve learned has a host of benefits for the employee and the organization.
In a recent webinar, Practice Makes Perfect: Making Learning Stick, David Wentworth, Principal Learning Analyst at Brandon Hall Group, and Jake Miller, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Allego, discussed how companies could leverage the art of practice. Here are four takeaways from the webinar.
1. Make Practice Part of the Learning Experience
To understand the value of practice, you must first understand the entire learning experience. And that starts with neuroscience, in particular the idea of cognition.
Cognition is defined as the process of gaining knowledge and understanding through your senses, experience, and thought. Simply put, cognition is about experiencing the concept of whatever you are learning. And, as David Wentworth explains, that experience is at the heart of what practice is all about.
“By putting learning into practice, the knowledge or behavior you have learned becomes cemented into your brain. Practice gives learners the ability to reflect on the material and think about how to apply it to future situations,” says Wentworth.
Brandon Hall Group surveyed companies to find out which ones were preparing for the future of work—and which were not. The survey found that 80% of companies who report they are ready for the future of work believe these neuro and cognitive science principles to be important or critical.
Learners also value the opportunity to practice, reporting that practice improves their attention, working memory, and even their mood when it comes to learning. Learners can internalize how they do their job, allowing for a bit more personalization in the learning process.
“If you give one group of folks the time to study and another group time to study and the chance to answer questions and apply what they have learned, research shows that the group that got to practice are the more effective learners,” says Jake Miller.
In Miller’s experience, putting learning into practice is especially important for conversation-based roles such as leadership, client-facing personnel, and sellers. “It’s not just that these learners need to learn just a new piece of knowledge,” says Miller. “It’s about being able to put that knowledge into meaningful, real-world conversations.”
Even compliance training, which lags in training advancements, is now adopting a more practice-based learning approach—with good results. “When you give employees the chance to practice their compliance training before they need it, you ensure that they will be safer when they need to be in compliance—it’s not their first time,” says Wentworth.
2. Apply Hands-On Lessons From the Pandemic
Although the pandemic halted most in-person interaction, companies’ use of hands-on practice training has continued to grow. The reason? Hands-on practice is effective and essential to the learner’s success.
This successful training program can be found at Nuveen, a large asset management company. In the highly regulated financial services industry, Nuveen has many compliance requirements.
“During the pandemic, Nuveen’s team of call center reps, distribution, client success, and sales needed to get up to speed on new talking points and messages,” says Miller. “But because the teams were remote and working across time zones, it was challenging to practice talk tracks and respond to questions. Moreover, there was no one-to-one role-playing with management.”
Nuveen had used Allego technology for many years and was able to build on what it had in place when it wanted to add remote, practice-based learning.
The company added an asynchronous video practice that gave all learners weekly exercises. Learners would get a ping on their mobile device asking their response to a specific question. Managers had the same exercise, practicing their response to potential subject area questions raised by their direct reports.
When learners get a ping, they do a practice session on camera articulating the answer to the question. The learning was timed to happen in the flow of work and not interfere with the learner’s day.
“When the learning team reviewed the results, they found that learners took four or five practice takes before sending their response,” says Miller. “Because reps were able to practice on their own time in a rich, contextual kind of way, they could better represent concepts and messages.”
Wentworth notes, “During the pandemic, companies had to go full in and try new things. Two years later, things are shifting again. But work on the practice session will continue, and I expect companies will do even more of it because of its positive impact.”
3. Incorporate AI into Training Practice
New learning technology is expanding its capabilities—helping organizations customize and scale training—through the use of Artificial intelligence (AI). But what role does AI play when it comes to practice?
One AI application is to provide guided, qualitative video for client-facing service roles or leadership conversations, making it valuable for both employees and leaders.
To start, the employee creates a practice video of a presentation. AI helps the trainee by pointing out potential issues. For example, it will note if the employee talks faster than other trainees or uses too many filler words. AI can also highlight if the employee is saying something out of bounds or incorrectly representing something.
AI parses through the topics the learner is speaking about and generates feedback that gives the learner a quick self-assessment. The trainee can practice the delivery repeatedly, continuing to reinforce the message or lesson each time they do.
“Practicing in a vacuum is not enough,” says Wentworth. “Feedback and intervention are critical. Because AI gives instant feedback, the learner gets the full benefit of the learning opportunity.”
AI is also a resource that helps managers give feedback more effectively. For example, AI can prioritize which recording to review first, which employee to spend more time on, and flag specific areas where an employee needs coaching and improvement.
“We’re not using AI to automate away the relationships between learner and the managers,” says Miller. “But by automating specific areas of improvement, AI can help the manager and the learner be more effective. By pointing them in the right direction, AI is scaling managers’ time—not replacing them.”
Wentworth agrees, noting that focusing on the issues that need addressing makes coaching interactions much more meaningful. “AI is a great technology to leverage for practice,” says Wentworth.
In addition to coaching, AI can also capture insights, curate, and resurface them to other learners in the flow of work.
“Learners—especially salespeople—like to learn from other people. But when they are working remotely, it’s not easy to ask the person at the next desk a question,” says Miller. “Using AI, you can leverage all the footage of practice and role-playing sessions and share examples of best practices, messages, job tasks, and make it available with other learners who need it.”
4. Practice for Results
The results speak for themselves: companies that provide training and practice opportunities achieve better results. But it’s not just practicing for the sake of practicing.
“Practice is good for the learner to do, but it also enables them to internalize knowledge, behaviors, and information. That practice training, combined with the right technology, benefits the organization in many ways,” says Wentworth.
To learn more about how practice improves the learning in your organization, watch Practice Makes Perfect: Making Learning Stick on demand.