An important part of an instructional designer’s job is to help learners with real-life application of the knowledge and skills they are learning in the training. There are many ways to do this in e-learning—most often, by incorporating scenarios and designing relevant exercises and simulations.

Are there other ways to help learners retain and apply the info to their real jobs? Yes! Here are four tips you can use to help learners transfer their new skills to their everyday work:

Tip 1: Create On-the-Job Assignments

Incorporate a realistic activity into your training or e-learning course that learners need to complete in real life. An application exercise like this is hands-down the best way to promote skills transfer to the job.

For example: one organization I worked for in the past had an e-learning course about how to name and handle various files and save them to USB devices. The post-course assignment was to create and save a file with a specific name (that included the learner’s last name) to a USB key. The key was then left with the training manager, who used it to verify that learners did indeed complete the course and that they could name and save files properly.

Tip 2: Give Learners Time to Reflect

It’s important to give your audience time to pause, reflect, and really absorb what they are learning, rather than rushing them through the course content. Consider adding activities to your e-learning that ask the learner to reflect about how the information learned applies to their job and to their real-life situations.

Here’s an idea: at the end of each module or lesson, include a freeform essay-style question that asks the learner to share how they’ll use the course information in their job. This type of question has no right or wrong answer, so it doesn’t need to be graded. The intent is to prompt learners to think about how this applies to their job, and how they can do their job better. It’s also great data that gives valuable insight into how the learners do their jobs.

Tip 3: Develop an Action Plan

Encourage your learners to keep an action plan that they can fill out through the e-learning session with ideas and tips they can apply to their job. This way, when something clicks and they think “Ah yes! I should do that!” they can write it down immediately and not risk forgetting it.

One easy, quick way to do this is to create a document (such as a PDF with text-entry fields) and link to it early in the course. Have learners save it to their desktops; they can use this to write down notes as they progress through the course, and print it if they need.

Another idea is to ask learners at the end of each lesson to reflect on what they learned and fill out an action plan. This combines tips #2 and #3 together!

Tip 4: Discuss Obstacles

Sometimes learners feel like there are obstacles preventing them from reaching the desired results of e-learning or training: lack of incentive, aging equipment, unclear processes or documentation, etc. Give your learners a way to voice their concerns about obstacles so you can consider their validity and offer solutions.

A few ideas: create an intranet page where people can share their views about obstacles, post-training. Or, hold a brief chat session or webinar for people to attend after they have completed the e-learning to debrief and talk about challenges.

These are only four of the many ways you can help learners transfer their new skills from your online training courses to their specific jobs. Do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear them, so please share them in the comments below. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for all the latest and greatest e-learning advice, tips, and tricks!

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Brian  Payne
Kim Lindsey
Gregory Wilton
Peter Rushton

I am still very much in learning mode, so I appreciate these thoughtful - and thought provoking - articles. I find them very engaging and interactive through simple reading and responding. In fact, I am often struck by how they are really a form of e-learning - which brings me to the idea that something like this could be incorporated into any e-learning course to extend it with both in-course and post-course activities. Learners could be required to participate in the community for a period of time - to comment on how they have applied the new skills - or to discuss obstacles, etc. Some added thoughts - engage their supervisors (previously mentioned); reward participation; and monitor as part of QA/performance reports. Thanks for the article - and the ability to learn thro... Expand