“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” (William Butler Yeats).

Among the many responsibilities of today’s training professionals, one of the biggest questions remains, “How do we keep learning alive long after training has ended?” It’s all too common for learners to return from a workshop feeling motivated, amped and ready to apply their new learning in their professional lives, only to find that excitement and energy fade or even disappear a few days or weeks later.

A key to keeping people inspired is understanding and engaging their conative needs, or their will to learn and persist with a task regardless of how challenging it isAs the foundations of educational psychology, specifically Immanuel Kant’s work around the “trilogy of the mind,” tell us, cognition is how we think, affection is how we feel and conation is how we direct our efforts. Essentially, conation refers to the impact our knowledge (cognition) and our feelings (affection) have on our behavior.

If learning is a fire, and motivation is a match that starts the fire, then conation is the wood that keeps the fire stoked and burning after the match has burned out. Here are three tips your organization can use to engage learners’ conative needs so that they are motivated and equipped to continue developing long after a lesson is over:

1. Provide different types of experiences to engage different learning styles.

If you asked a room of 25 people what sort of learning worked – and didn’t work – for them in the past, answers would probably include everything from instruction style to presentation formats and learning modalities. For every person who likes group discussions and hands-on training, there’s another who prefers individual study and reflection.

The goal for trainers is to determine how to provide different learning options for different types of learners so they don’t disengage with the learning process before it’s begun. After all, if learners are bored by the presentation in the first place or feel uncomfortable with a particular type of instruction, it’ll be next to impossible to help them apply that training.

2. Inspire learners to take ownership of their development journey.

After you’ve appealed to different learning styles, it’s important to instill in learners a sense of ownership in their development journey. Give learners the tools they need to develop on their own by ensuring that they understand that implementing new principles is an ongoing process that they must work into their professional plans and goals.

To help learners think about the ways they can take ownership of their development, engage them in questions like these:

  • What are my intentions and goals?
  • What new learning can I apply to my day-to-day work in the short term?
  • What new learning can I apply to my work goals in the long term?
  • What are my current plans and commitments, and how could my new learning help me achieve them?

3. Shift the focus from training to sustaining.

While all kinds of learning can have value, only the learning that we use has the power to enable personal and professional breakthroughs. In many ways, the key to training is to move beyond it and focus instead on how to sustain developmental progress after learners leave the classroom.

One of the main reasons focusing on sustainability is so important is the drop-off that occurs in a typical learning journey. In their research, Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, founders of APPLY Synergies, have illuminated a key gap in the learning transfer process whereby learners can easily acquire an understanding of a new concept but don’t apply that understanding in their on-the-job competencies. This crucial application of new learning leads to behavior change and breakthroughs. Without it, training results are really just a glorified game of counting the number of filled workshop seats.

Today’s typical learning journey too often has three parts: short logistical pre-work, the learning intervention, and then infrequent and inconsistent follow-up. This model doesn’t work because it doesn’t follow the natural progression of a sustainable learning journey. To keep learning alive and to keep learners engaged, we must adjust the formula: Engage different learning styles, inspire learners to own their journeys, and shift the development mindset from train to sustain. When developing new competencies in today’s changing business landscape, we can’t leave learning transfer up to chance.

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