Development Planning – Making Learning Stick

We all know it’s a good thing to have a development plan but, when it comes to executing it, are you taking the steps to ensure that the learning takes place and actually sticks?

Maybe you’re a manager who goes through the process of development planning with your team but it doesn’t seem to make a difference ….or maybe your focus is on your own development and  you want to get the most from your development activities.  Either way, read on and you’ll get some tips on how to make learning stick.

Let's Consider How We Learn…

You may have heard of Kolb’s Learning Cycle and Honey & Mumford’s Learning Styles – these models offer insights into the cycle of experiential learning and our preferences for learning activities.  In this blog, I’ll use these models to explore how we learn and develop, look at the traps we can fall into when learning and provide some tips on how to make learning stick.

If you want to maximise your learning opportunities, you need to complete a cycle of four key stages – Do, Review, Conclude, Plan. 


Typically, we start with the ‘Doing’ but actually you can start anywhere as long as you complete the cycle to maximise the learning opportunity.

This involves having an experience that is new – activists love this as a learning method because it’s so hands on.  You might never have chaired a meeting before but that shouldn’t stop you from having a go.  If you’re the sort of person who likes to get stuck in, it’s likely you’d unconsciously choose to go through this stage of learning first.  But that doesn’t have to be the case, you could opt for the ‘doing it’ to be the last part of your development journey.

businessman diving in - cropped

This involves taking a step back and reflecting on what happened whilst the development activity was taking place.  In the ‘Chairing Meeting’ scenario, that would mean reviewing what went well, what didn’t work, exploring how you felt about it and finding out what others thought    You don’t have to have performed a task yourself to review it – you might start by observing someone else chairing a meeting and then reflecting on what they did and how they did it.

An important part of learning is to draw conclusions so that you develop an understanding of the theories and concepts that apply to situations where you’re trying to improve.  You might conclude, for example, that the best chair people are the ones who: give clarity about purpose, actively seek people’s ideas and summarise regularly.  If you have a ‘Theorist’ learning preference, this is likely to be your favourite stage and you may spend time researching about best meeting practice and what makes an effective chairperson.

Theory into practice

This stage involves translating what you already know, or have learnt, about a situation and turning it into a plan of activities that will help you execute the learning.  Pragmatists like this stage as they’re always keen to work out how new learning applies in the real world.  Planning it allows them to take any generic lessons and actually apply it to their real situations.  So, if you do have to plan for that meeting you’re going to chair for the first time, who are the people that you will need to draw out and encourage to speak and how will you actually do that?

I’ve alluded to us having preferences about the way we learn which means we’re more likely to be drawn to one or two of the stages and miss out the others.  What happens as a result?  We inhibit our learning (albeit unconsciously) so there’s less chance that the learning will stick.


What are the traps we fall into?


business trapHere are some of the traps people can fall into.  Do you recognise yourself in any of these?

Do, Do, Do – we keep getting involved in new activities but we don’t maximise our learning from those experiences by asking ourselves questions about the experience, drawing conclusions or planning how to improve the next attempt

Review, Conclude, Review, Conclude – This is like getting ready to run a race.  We know how to get ourselves into the right starting position so in theory we’re ‘Ready’ but we never actually reach the ‘Get Set’ or ‘Go’ stage

Do, Plan, Do, Plan – This trap sees us missing out the reflecting and concluding stages which means we haven’t developed a full understanding of the task at hand. This can result in coming up with quick fixes which may not result in the best longer term outcome.

Do, Conclude, Do, Conclude – In missing out the review and planning stages, the danger  is that we jump to conclusions too quickly about what we need to do next time. 


What do you need to do to make sure learning, for you or your team members, really sticks?

Leaking glue

  • Make sure you complete all four stages of the cycle when you are tackling a development goal
  • Start with the stage that you are most drawn to then add the other steps in or if you really want to challenge yourself, consciously begin with the stage you’re in most danger of skipping
  • If you’re a manager supporting a team member with their development, don’t push your own first choice stage onto them; let them start with the one to which they’re best suited
  • When putting development plans together, specifically write in the four stages to make sure one or more doesn’t get missed
  • Recognise the stages which you’re most likely to miss out and get help with those, for example, if you’re most likely to miss out the reviewing stage, get your manager to ask you review questions once you’ve performed the development activity
  • Use the four stages with any new activity, even if it’s not a formal development need – you will learn to develop more effectively as a result.

So, next time you are planning in some development remember the four stages, remind yourself of the possible traps and work through the stages to make the learning stick.
Posted  by Gill Bonello

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