One of the biggest risks in seeking professional writing skills development is whether a given writing program will actually produce the desired results and then keep producing those results over time.
In other words, poorly designed or poorly matched writing courses and training services often just don’t stick. Before too long, your team will be back to bad old habits, losing their new skills, and forgetting what they learned. So, what does it take to make sure your investment in writing skills development will lead to durable, long-lasting improvement and solid, real-world business results?
Let’s look at this question from two different directions: long-term skills retention and long-term goals achievement.
First, most writing courses are not well-designed to promote long-term retention of the concepts learned and skills developed.
We know that learners forget a significant amount of new material very quickly. How much learners – especially adult learners – lose (and how quickly) is a subject for debate. Over a century ago, psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus proposed the “Forgetting Curve,” which suggests that learners lose 56% of new knowledge after one hour, 66% after one day, and 75% after six days. Other studies have found that learning loss isn’t quite so dire but still happens. One study looking at summer learning loss found that the average student loses between 17% and 34% of the prior year’s learning over the three-month break.
Unfortunately, optimal learning retention requires teaching techniques that are often missing from professional and adult learning courses. For example, active learning is key to long-term retention. This means students who are just sitting there absorbing lectures are less likely to retain information and new skills than those who engage in hands-on and group activities. One study found that active learners retain as much as 93.5% versus only 79% from passive learners.
The problem is that most corporate training is not active, or only minimally so, nor is it tailored to the individual and unique needs of each class. Most writing courses are too abstract, too generic, too impersonal (not personalized), too theoretical, and too poorly targeted to the student’s specific needs to maximize learning gains over time. That’s because those courses are designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and to be mass-produced for maximum sales – neither of which is a recipe for long-term learning retention.
Second, and perhaps more important, most writing courses are just plain bad at helping students learn how to create writing that produces results.
For most courses, better writing is itself the end goal. For businesses, however, better writing is just a means to a larger end. That mismatch means that most writing courses are simply doomed to fail in terms of helping organizations generate long-term success.
If your goal is simply for your team to sound more professional in emails, almost any off-the-shelf professional writing course will help. The challenge is that most organizations need their writing to do more than just “sound professional.” The writing they produce has goals to achieve. They need to make that sale. They need to educate or inform that reader. They need to cultivate a certain impression or reputation. And crafting written documents that can reliably and consistently produce real-world business results requires more from a writing program than just the rules of grammar and sentence structure.
Most professional writing programs aren’t business specific. They don’t think about or address how writing fits into a professional environment, must work with business strategy, or must achieve specific objectives. As a result, most of these generalized courses fall short of the business-specific skills needed to transform writing into results.
Instead, here’s what you need to look for in your professional writing programs:
- Personalization/customization. Before you purchase, you should work with one of the company’s consultants to map your goals for the workshop. This consultant’s team should then analyze your team’s documents, evaluate your team’s specific skill gaps and understand the reasons for them, and tailor the training to address those gaps. The workshop itself should use your organization’s actual documents to customize.
- Interaction. The trainers must do more than just lecture at your team. They need to interact with them, both asking and answering questions. This interaction should be a core part of the workshop and include exercises, examples, and lots of opportunities for your team to apply concepts to documents with which they’re familiar.
- Strategy. Really effective, results-oriented writing training must discuss and incorporate strategy. Without a discussion of strategy and why it’s important, your team is very likely to continue to approach writing tasks as they always have, with little in terms of long-term results. An effective workshop will discuss the role of strategy in writing and challenge participants to assess if their writing strategy works and what they might do to create a more effective strategy.
- Activities. Finally, trainers must incorporate learner participation with plentiful activities and small-group discussion, again working with real-world documents produced and used at your organization.
For more help understanding the kind of training that can produce long-term success, Contact Hurley Write for a consultation to assess, diagnose, and resolve your professional writing challenges.