Current Learning Practices Don’t Work: The 4E Learning Model Does

Written by Brent D. Peterson on . Posted in White Papers

“The most important learning from our research is that follow-up is more important in the overall learning process than the actual week long course.”

Results by Design: The 4Es for Change

Our Research

 Twenty years ago while doing research with a major high tech company on the impact of their senior leadership program, we discovered that properly following-up on the training made a significant difference on the impact of the training.  The leadership course was a five day retreat that focused on teaching many contemporary leadership ideas and models.  Many of the key ideas were presented by the original thought leaders.  A week after the workshop, we discovered that the participants had learned very little from the training.  They knew more about the wine list at the hotel where they stayed, than they knew about the information and skills that were taught in the workshop.  They couldn’t name the workshop presenters, nor could they discuss the presenters’ ideas and information or skills.  There was little transfer of this learning experience to the senior leaders’ jobs.

To help with this lack of learning, we developed a series of eight short lessons that focused on the content of the workshop that were to be completed by each leader following the training.  Each leader was to take a half hour a week and complete a lesson and apply it at work.  To insure that the lessons were completed, we assigned a coach to each leader.  The coach called each week to see how the leader did with the mini lesson.  Where little learning occurred in the original leadership program without the follow-up, with the follow-up our research found: 

  1. Enhanced Learning:  Each leader could pass tests on the content.
  2. Application on the Job:  Each leader was using the skills they learned at work.
  3. Organizational Impact:  Leaders perceived the training had a significant impact on their organization.

The most important learning from our research was that follow-up was more important in the overall learning process than the actual week long course.

Since this early experience we began a continuing research program to determine what types of learning activities truly lead to enhanced learning, application on the job, and organizational impact.  Our research suggests that pre-work and follow-up influence the impact of training much more significantly than we expected.  After having evaluated literally thousands of learning workshops in our personal practice at PetersonGillespie, in our work with Franklin Covey, and in our work with the University of Phoenix; we have evolved a strong point-of-view regarding what works best in training.

Our Point-of-View:  Current Training Practices Do Not Work!

Training and learning experiences do not usually transfer back to the workplace.  Over the years instructional designers have focused on creating wonderful ways to teach learners in the classroom and to get learners to love the learning experience (Good scores on smile sheets).  However, instructional designers have done little more than pay lip service to what causes trainees to use what they learn back at work.

Our research over the years indicates that only 25% of real learning transfer happens in the classroom, while 100% of the focus of instructional designers is on the classroom 25%.

PetersonGillespie can help your company become a company that uses learning to achieve organizational results.  TWIG has processes and workshops to help your organization achieve its goals through your learning programs such as:

Organizational Results and Learning Audit — A process for determining how effectively your organizational learning focuses on results.

Competency Mapping Linked to Organizational Results –A process for developing results based competency maps.

Learning Inventory Profiling Service — A process for evaluating how effectively a learning curriculum and all other learning interventions teach the competencies.

Results by Design:  How to Design World Class Learning Interventions – A two day instructional design course based on the 4E Learning Model.

Learning Delivery Services – A process to help determine which delivery approaches work best for the organization.

Measuring the Results of Learning – A two day impact measurement course.

Learning Consulting

The Models

Smart Work (TWIG) effectively measures learning and change efforts to ensure they deliver organizational results. We use a simple, manageable, and credible process for evaluating the impact and the return on investment (ROI) of organizational learning and change efforts.

TWIG applies this process to measure all of our own learning and change interventions as well as those of many other learning companies.  As each learning intervention is slightly different, we apply and tailor the evaluation to fit the measurement needs of the workshop.  For example, when we deliver a public program such as our workshop, Aligning People with Purpose Workshop, we apply the process a bit differently because we put a greater emphasis on the impact of the workshop on an individual. Aligning People with Purpose Workshop focuses on learning and individual impact.  When measuring the impact of our work session, Smart Work, we apply the process so we obtain more information regarding the organization such as application at work, organizational impact and return on investment. Smart Work is a facilitated intervention that aligns workers and their teams with the strategic goals of the organization. This intervention leads to execution and organizational impact.

TWIG research suggests that organizations that measure impact are more successful at attaining their organizational goals.  In addition, TWIG studies regarding the return on investment of learning and change find that organizations that focus their learning efforts in specific areas generate high returns on their learning and change investment.

Following is our first model, The Organizational Learning Framework, which consists of six specific focus areas that impact learning and change:

The PetersonGillespie Organizational Learning Framework™


  1. Organizational Results: Align learning and performance with organizational results. For example, increased sales, reduced cycle time, lower employee turnover, or increased customer service.
  2. Competencies: Select and determine which competencies are important to achieving results.  Target competency gaps and fill the gaps with competencies that will impact organizational results.
  3. Learning and Change Inventory: Develop and maintain learning and change interventions that impact results, reduce costs, and improve return-on-investment.
  4. Learning and Change Interventions: Create specific interventions, using adult learning models, to create excitement, promote practical experience, and ensure that learning is executed so it impacts results.
  5. Delivery: Implement learning and change interventions using efficient and blended approaches.
  6. Impact: Measure learning and change efforts to ensure their impact is delivering organizational results.

The following questions should be asked regarding each focus area:

  1. Organizational Results – What does the organization need to achieve or improve?
  2. Competencies – what must employees know, do and be to achieve desired organizational results?
  3. Learning and Change Inventory – What courses and programs should be offered to improve competencies and organizational results?
  4. Learning and Change Interventions – What learning interventions should be included?
  5. Delivery – Which delivery methods best support the required learning or change?
  6. Impact – Did the learning and change impact competencies and organizational results?

The 4E Learning Model

The following diagram indicates the impact of a typical learning and change event on the learning and behavior of organizational participants.  This diagram reflects the combined results of hundreds of published learning and change studies.  It illustrates that behavior and learning are both influenced by training events.  However, after about two weeks participant behavior goes back to where it was prior to the training event and most of the information learned has been forgotten.


The second diagram illustrates the impact of a results-based learning or change intervention on the behavior of participants.



During numerous impact analysis studies conducted by TWIG, we focused on determining which of four stages contributed most to the return on investment of learning and change. The four stages were: pre-work (Excite), workshops/learning interventions (Experience), follow-up support (Execute), and evaluation. Following are the average responses from our research with approximately 3,000 different courses.  TWIG research indicates that the impact of a learning or change intervention is determined by all four stages.  However, some stages are more important than others.  The data follows:


  • Excite Stage contributes 25% to the total learning impact
  • Experience Stage contributes 25% to the total learning impact
  • Execute Stage contributes 50% to the total learning impact
  • Evaluation Stage contributes in all of the first three stages

These percentages represent the contribution made to the impact and return on investment of each of the 4Es.  Note that the evaluation stage happens within the other three “E” stages.  Therefore, its contribution to return on investment is included in the other three stages.

Performance improvement and the attainment of organizational results require an understanding of the TWIG 4E Learning Model.  This model guides the strategic learning and design process for organizing learning efforts that maximize organizational results.  This model focuses primarily on increasing the effectiveness and performance capability of people through learning interventions.  It is a specific learning process designed to develop and promote knowledge, skills, and attributes.  The 4s are: Excite, Experience, Execute, and Evaluate.  A pictorial representation follows:


The percentages represent the impact each of the first three stages has on an organization’s desired learning results.

The Excite Stage

Our research indicates that if an organization does not properly use the Excite stage they can lose as much as 25% of the impact of their learning intervention.  This stage helps focus the efforts of people in a learning intervention on what they are about to experience.  The Excite stage gets a person ready for maximum learning in the stages that follow.

The Experience Stage

The Experience stage (the actual learning event) influences only about 25% of the learning impact regardless of whether the event is instructor led, on-line, or a blended learning experience.  This stage is where the learners come together in a social situation such as a classroom or where learners sit alone in front of a computer.

The Execute Stage

The most important stage of the process is the Execute stage.  What an organization does to enhance learning following the Experience stage is crucial in the learning process.  Fifty percent of the impact of a learning intervention comes from activities that are developed to be used after the actual learning event is complete. This is the most important stage, but receives the least amount of attention.  It focuses on personal application to the work environment with effective implementation of knowledge and skills.

The Evaluate Stage

The Evaluate stage helps determine the impact of the learning intervention and leads to refinements in the learning intervention that will produce the greatest impact. We suggest that evaluation is a continuous process that takes place throughout each of the first three stages.

Learning and change interventions that do not include a major focus on Excite and Execute rarely measure the highest positive impact scores.  In sum, understanding the 4E Learning Model is crucial in both developing and/or acquiring learning workshops.  If the Excite and Execute stages are not included in a workshop, the impact of the workshop loses 75% of its potential impact. How do the workshops you teach measure up to the 4E Learning Model?

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