Improve the Impact of Training on the Job

by Kathy Cocchio

Recently, I was reading Lancaster, Di Milia, and Cameron’s (2013) findings on supervisor behaviours that facilitate training transfer. Employees reported that training transfer was optimized when they felt involved in training decisions, and supported throughout the training sequence. As a result, the authors propose meaningful support prior, during, and after formal training—they call this the PDA model for supervisory support of workplace learning.

While I was reading this article, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d heard the term PDA before; Google quickly reminded me that PDA has long been used to refer to public displays of affection. That got me thinking about the public displays of affection for learning I initiate with my team and about how these actions might align with Lancaster, Di Milia, and Cameron’s (2013) PDA model, support training transfer, and be perceived by my team members.

Here are some public displays of affection (PDAs) for learning actions that I’ve integrated into my supervisory practice, sorted according to the PDA model, with some reflections on feedback I’ve received from team members.

PRIOR

To meaningfully contribute to a workplace culture that supports learning, to encourage staff to take ownership of their learning goals, and to enhance their capacity to support our departmental outcomes, I employ the following PDAs for learning throughout the year.

  • In team meetings, I make space for discussion and collaborative decision-making around training goals for the team as a whole, and for individual team members.
  • I regularly send out emails to the team identifying professional development opportunities and encouraging them to apply for funding support.
  • I send out emails to individual team members alerting them to professional development opportunities that I know align with their individual professional goals.
  • I maintain a developmental focus in performance evaluation and development conversations.

Team feedback on these PDAs has validated that my actions are perceived as meaningful, motivational, and helpful. However, I note that I have not made it a point to meet with staff prior to a training event to pointedly discuss course content, its value to our departmental outcomes, or my expectations. Lancaster, Di Milia, and Cameron’s (2013) findings suggest that this kind of meeting is perceived by staff as motivational. I will, therefore, consider this additional PDA in future practice.

DURING

In this stage of the training sequence, I enact the following PDAs to optimize conditions for learning:

  • I ensure ongoing, meaningful coverage of and/or suspension of responsibilities of team member’s portfolio while he/she is in training.
  • I initiate F-2-F or digital check-in’s to see how the training is going, what the highlights have been thus far, and whether any assistance would be helpful.
  • I provide encouragement: listening, coaching, and sharing stories as appropriate.
  • I send out links to articles related to the training event to demonstrate interest in and underscore the relevance of the training to our professional practice.

Lancaster and colleagues (2013) note that “Supportive supervisors were those that made themselves available to provide information, to discuss topics or listen and talk through ideas that required clarification” (p 16). It’s long been my belief that ensuring that team members can meaningfully participate as a whole learner—as opposed to one distracted by competing priorities—optimizes conditions for learning. Feedback from staff supports this assumption: staff have told me that my check-ins relieve some of the stress associated with learning, that not having to worry about what’s waiting for them at their desks enhances their cognitive presence in learning events, and that they appreciate my interest and hands-on care. AFTER

Post training PDAs are a critical component of my supervisory practice. To demonstrate my confidence in their ability to transfer their learning into our work context:

  • I initiate conversation about key learnings in training and possible impact on practice.
  • I provide opportunities for staff to use and continue to develop new skills.
  • I require staff to report in to our team, sharing highlights of training, key learnings, and possible implications for practice (either at a team meeting or in a document). I make it safe to be real about any shortcomings in the training, or to challenge existing practices.

These actions align with Lancaster, Di Milia, and Cameron’s (2013) recommendation that “…supervisors to create a supportive work culture that provides participants with the confidence to try new work behaviours” (p. 16). Staff feedback appears to support the validity of this recommendation. Staff report that they appreciate my authentic care in their development, the opportunity to discuss their learning (with me and team), and opportunities to apply their learning and/or collaboratively determine next steps.

Final Thoughts

Providing support to staff prior to, during, and after training appears to have supported a team culture of learning and transfer—for staff and me. My practice is more informed, richer, and delightful for having initiated these PDAs for learning. Michelangelo is quoted as having said—at the age of 87 no less—“I am still learning.” His many works of art are a testimony to his PDAs for workplace learning and training transfer. What are yours?

About the Author

Kathy Cocchio has 18 years of supporting faculty development in the post-secondary sector. For the past 7 years, she has led NAIT’s team of Teaching & Learning Specialists and Educational Technologists in their support of faculty development. In 2015, Kathy’s team nominated her for the STHLE College Sector Educator Award; although she was not selected for the award, the nomination stands as a highlight of her practice at NAIT.