This is part two of a three-part series where I’m covering the following topics:
- Part 1: Getting Leadership Approval
- Part 2: Retaining Information
- Part 3: Leveraging Learning
In this article, we’re diving into the big question: How do you effectively capture—and more importantly, retain—learning in a professional development training program?
For many professionals, training isn’t an everyday occurrence. Maybe it’s been a few years (or a few decades!) since you attended a formal class of any sort. Further, most of us never really learned how to be great students in high school or college. We just sort of stumbled our way through and felt endlessly grateful when it was all over.
As an adult, engaging in learning activities for the sake of professional development is a totally different proposition. Most people get really excited about it. After all, it’s a break from the normal, day-to-day routine. It’s an opportunity to expand your horizons and increase your value in the workplace. What’s not to love?
Sadly, a lot of people get overwhelmed when it comes to training activities. Any given professional development course can cover a wide range of topics at varying degrees of complexity and in a relatively short period of time. Sessions are often condensed to accommodate the constraints of a busy working environment. And meanwhile, participants are constantly worried about their growing to-do lists and often distracted by interruptions.
Here are some things you can do to improve your focus on the learning, which will ultimately enhance your comprehension and your ability to remember what you learned.
1. Participate Fully
The more you put into your training, the more you’re going to get out of it. That’s why I encourage every participant to “play full out.” That means that you’re willing to do whatever is asked of you to the best of your ability. If the instructor wants you to role play, you do so with enthusiasm. If the material asks you to get creative, you don’t hold back. If homework is assigned, you make time to complete it. Full participation requires complete dedication to whatever activity is presented. There’s no time for complaints. Just trust that the activities presented are purposeful and that the training facilitator knows what he or she is doing. You literally have nothing to lose. You’re in training anyway. Why not get the most out of it?
Full participation also means you’re mentally and physically present throughout the entire thing. Don’t skip parts that sound boring. Don’t tune out when you think something doesn’t apply to you. Don’t schedule appointments during your training time. Clear your schedule and inform your colleagues that you won’t be available. Yes, you will have some catch up to do once you return to your desk. But you can’t be in two places at once. If you try, you’re going to harm your performance both in training and with your work. And remember: If you keep your eyes and ears open in class, you may pick up some golden nuggets of wisdom in the most unexpected places.
2. Take Notes
Most professional development courses include materials like workbooks and handouts. However, don’t think of that as a replacement for taking your own notes. These things are really designed to be used as a complement.
Taking notes in class:
- Improves your ability to focus. When you’re taking notes, your mind doesn’t wander as frequently.
- Increases retention. When you physically write things down, the information becomes more deeply imprinted in your mind.
- Creates a tangible record for reference. Your notes can be used in the future to remind you of the points you found most interesting and important.
Personally, when I take notes in a training class, I tend to capture ideas on how the information applies to my daily work, questions I want to explore later, and topics I want to study more on my own. Doing this helps keep me engaged with the material being covered and provides a great reference tool for my continued learning outside of class.
I generally recommend that you review your notes within 24 hours of taking them and clean things up a bit if needed. If you’re like me, you may have a lot of barely legible words, especially if you were moving fast to capture an idea. Reviewing your notes quickly ensures you still remember what they mean. It’s also a best practice to consolidate your notes by writing a few summary sentences about what they contain at the bottom or top of the page.
3. Ask Questions
As a trainer, I can assure you that questions are appreciated! If you have the opportunity to learn with a live instructor (rather than via a pre-recorded video, for example), take advantage. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: There are no stupid questions. If you’re thinking it, other people are too. I can’t tell you the number of incredibly fruitful conversations that have happened in training classes because someone asked a question that everyone was thinking.
Further, I also very much appreciate participants who express resistance to ideas that are presented—when it’s done in a respectful, open-minded way. You’re not always going to agree with the strategies and ideas set forth by your instructor. It’s perfectly acceptable, and even useful, to share your thoughts. But it has to be done in a way that supports the learning, rather than detracts from it. You can’t simply attempt to discredit what you’re hearing without also providing insight on your perspective. You have to be willing to hear the other side and accept that there may be a better way. These kinds of thoughtful, useful debates can really enhance the outcomes of training. But again, it has to be handled appropriately.
4. Create an Action Plan
Finally, always create an action plan once training is complete. Most trainers—myself included—tie this into the coursework. After all, we want you to use what you learned and action is the only way to make that happen. Creating a plan increases the likelihood that you’ll actually take action on what you learned quickly.
I typically recommend that you focus on two or three key areas at a time. If you’ve just learned a ton of new information, don’t try to implement everything at once. That can be too overwhelming. Pick a few things that will be immediately useful and tackle those first. Then, refer back to your training materials and notes, and pick another few things to add in. This incremental approach tends to be more effective in the long-run.
These strategies will help make the time spent in training a more worthwhile investment.
Stay tuned for part three in this series: Leveraging Learning.