Making Training Stick

“Memory is the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms.” – Merriam-Webster

Like most people, by tomorrow morning you’re likely to forget 85% of that definition. In spite of such a grim reality, we continually learn. With the help of neuroscience, we have discovered what makes it stick.

Back to the definition: “associative mechanism” is another way of saying “transfer what is learned in training to the realities of the work environment.”  L&D has three opportunities to accomplish this:


Do your research.  The Learning Pyramid graphic shows that participatory learning methods increase average retention rates.

Probe for information; observe staff in their work setting.  Instructional design carries much of the burden.  Designing participatory methods for the training amps up the learning retention.

  • Some content, such as decision making, lends itself to gamification. Retention increases when learners are engaged and having fun.
  • Role playing and simulations appeal to multiple learning styles – another proven approach – but do require fine-tuning when creating scenarios that mirror the business environment.

Reference and reinforce broader business goals. Staff respond positively when they see how their performance impacts profit.

Involve management in the design process to gain buy-in for the methods chosen.  Learning designed for maximum retention involves ongoing skills feedback and coaching.  This important role is left to managers post training.  Start the manger engagement early.  Ask executives and managers to communicate their expectations and support prior, during, and after the training.


This is the learner’s first opportunity to rehearse new skills in a safe environment. This doesn’t mean endless repetition. Make activities relevant. Shake things up a bit:

  • Have participants instruct one another. A teach back is a powerful method to increase learning retention.
  • Allow discussion time for participants to share ideas on integrating the new material into their work.
  • Take things a step further. Ask them to reflect on how their performance will improve, as well as obstacles they might encounter and ways to overcome obstacles.
  • Work through case studies and sample problems. Ask a manager to participate by posing a business problem or challenge for class discussion.
  • Schedule time for participants to create personal action plans to apply skills learned during the training. Select buddies to support accountability going forward.


Your learners have, well, learned a lot. Show your pride with a post-training communication plan that encourages participants to put in to practice what they learned. For example, identify two or three skills to incorporate in week one, week two, and so forth. Spice it up with tips.

Include managers in your communication efforts.  With the manager buy in received during the training design the skills reinforcement and coaching is now in managers’ hands post training.  Their follow-up is critical.


  • Review upcoming projects for opportunities to incorporate participatory methods such as practice and discussion opportunities in the training design.
  • Establish a post-training communication plan, calendar and email template. The plan will include timing, recipients, and content to communicate post training.