How to Sustain Learning

How to Sustain LearningState of the Industry ReportAccording to the latest State of the Industry Report by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), organizations spent $1,273 per employee on direct learning expenditure. Paired with this fact is the belief that no more than 20% of this investment results in the transfer of the new skills and knowledge back to the job. If learning is not getting transferred, and the new knowledge and skills are not being sustained, the learning initiative is a waste of time and money.

In an earlier FKA blog, we discussed the concept of a Learning Transfer Strategy. Learning Transfer is affected by the learners’ motivation to apply the skill and knowledge, the effectiveness of the program, the transfer activities, and the degree of support in the workplace.

Transfer versus Sustainment

Transfer of Learning means to “move” the skill and knowledge acquired by the learner from the physical or virtual environment to the workplace.

As an example, if the learner had participated in a presentation skills program, the learner would have demonstrated effective verbal and non-verbal behavior, handled questions from the audience and demonstrated the elements of an effective presentation during application exercises in the program. Transferring that learning simply means the learners would be able to move or use the knowledge and skills learned from the presentation skills program to back on the job presentations.

Coaching Guide for ManagersSustainment means to maintain, support and prolong the knowledge and skills acquired and transferred from the learning program until successful accomplishment of the performance objectives. A performance objective is defined for a learning module and states what the learner must be able to do back on the job.

Just as in a successful transfer strategy, for learning sustainment to be successful, all three stakeholders-managers, learners and L&D-should be actively involved before, during and after.

This matrix outlines a strategy with some simple actions for each stakeholder during the three periods.  Contact us to receive a free copy.

A key success factor for learning sustainment is a coaching process. A Best Practice for consistency in the Coaching Process is the development of a Coaching Guide used for discussion by the manager with the learner after the program. An effective coaching guide includes the following three elements:

1.      Learning Program Review

Learning Program ReviewA review of the discussion that took place prior to the learning program should include:

  • Mutual expectations
  • Importance of the program
  • Learning objectives
  • Content outline
  • Process and application used in the program

2.      Action Plan Review

Action Plan ReviewThe managers should review and discuss the Action Plan developed by the learner at the end of the program. This step not only helps with transfer, it supports and prolongs sustainment of learning and highlights behavior change that is required to meet the performance objective(s) that align with organizational goals.


3.      Coaching Questions

The following is a sample of some possible questions that the manager can ask the learner to facilitate individual growth and purposeful action. The number of questions asked as well as the order and selection of questions should be determined on a case-by- case basis. This example uses Presentation Skills sustainment questions: Coaching Questions

  • Have you had an opportunity to make a presentation and use the skills since the Presentation Skills program?
  • Are you doing anything differently in your preparation and/or delivery since participating in the program?
  • What successes have you had with your presentations?
  • Can you share some best practices and lessons learned to date?
  • What are some of the challenges you have encountered when preparing and/or delivering presentations?
  • Can you share some examples of the purpose and objectives from the presentations that you are delivering?
  • What techniques are you using to analyse your audience prior to the presentation?
  • What are the some of the ways you create interaction and audience involvement?
  • How did you handle questions from the audience?
  • Did you have to handle any audience objections to the presentation? If yes, what were the objections and how did you handle them?
  • Are there verbal and non-verbal behaviors that you are continuing to work on? If yes, which ones?
  • What are your next steps following this sustainment session?


Final ThoughtsCoaching sessions and sustainment discussions are best facilitated by the managers of the learners. However, in many organizations, L&D has collaborated with the managers in these discussions to ensure consistency of approach, as well as to gather critical information from the learners concerning success and barriers to knowledge and skill usage.

For a more comprehensive list of sustainment questions or have FKA develop a sustainment strategy, contact Geoff Nolan at


FKA President
Michael Nolan