It’s all about Sticky Learning – isn’t it?

Sticky learning is a new buzzword in the training lexicon. It is turning up quite a bit in tender documents and elsewhere. Google searches pull up many pages indexed to that term. One entrepreneurial training provider even claims trademark registration for it – so others might need to be a bit careful how they in turn use it. Sticky learning seems to have its origins in the schools system and is only more recently being used in relation to the workplace.

Sticky learning simply means learning that is retained after the training event and is therefore available for subsequent use. The label may be new but the concept is as old as learning itself. The learning that has stuck can be recalled, regurgitated in exams, or in some cases used for application at work. That learning is sticky doesn’t mean that it is applied usefully at work, just that it is available for that purpose. Sticky learning is not an end in itself; rather it is a pre-requisite for passing exams or for applying new ideas and tools at work.

Does the fact that some learning for work is sticky mean that the training has been useful? Not at all; learning for work is only useful if it results in some positive change at work. Sticky learning that doesn’t turn up as change at work is no more useful than learning that doesn’t stick at all. Identify the training that is required by knowing the changes and results you want to achieve at work.

How do we design, develop and deliver training events that generate sticky learning? Adult teaching and learning best practices pretty much tell us how to do that:

  • Provide training that has meaning for learners and utility for work right now.
  • Engage the learners with events that ‘speak’ to them.
  • Create opportunities for participants to bring their own knowledge to the training event and to learn from others.
  • Go heavy on experiential elements.

And how do we make sure that the learning is applied at work? Same as above, but with a few extras:

  • Provide workplace support so learners feel encouraged to make application efforts.
  • Follow the learners back to work to check how they are going with application.
  • Measure and share results.

So, learning that doesn’t stick is simply not available for use. And for it to be applied at work, the learning has to be sticky, useful, timely and accompanied by a very large measure of application support. There is nothing new in any of this; but the buzz about sticky learning is a great reminder to learning and development professionals about their own purpose and practices.