Anyone who designs or delivers training for a living has probably heard statistics about low learner retention rates of the skills and information taught in a classroom or eLearning course. This has resulted in a lot of activity around training reinforcement. In fact, some have suggested that it is more important to provide after training support, such as job aids and just-in-time reference material, than it is to worry about the content of the training session. While I believe ongoing support is important, it is just a part of the whole of a successful learning experience.
The real keys to successful training reinforcement originate from planning and activities that occur before, during, and after the training. Because they are most often overlooked, I'd like to focus on activities that take place before the training that are part of an overall reinforcement strategy.
The following are some reinforcement strategies that you may implement before the training as part of a successful course:
A great way to reinforce course learnings is to use the course itself as the foundation for a learning community. This community can be sustained and reinforced through techniques such as internal chat/discussion sites, book clubs, social events, lunch and shares (where participants share successes and challenges with implementing learnings), newsletters, websites, etc. These bring the learning culture alive for the participants. A great example of the successful execution of this concept is the leadership training that Jennifer Hale and her team created and executed at Assurant Specialty Property. You can hear more about it on her Learning Insights Business RadioX interview with TrainingPros.
As part of the initial communication around a course, the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) should be explained and promoted. How will the participants benefit from the knowledge and skills gained in the course? Will it make their jobs easier? Will it assist them in career advancement? Will it help them work better with their teams or others within the organization? Clear benefits relate to skills and knowledge that are integral to the job and therefore will be easy to reinforce later.
Of course, in a well designed course, the benefits, learning objectives, and content/activities should match. Limiting the course to "need to know" knowledge and skills will not only make your course more effective initially, it will also make it easier to reinforce key learnings down the road.
Break out as much of the information part of the course as possible and deliver it as pre-course eLearning or pre-reads. Or create assignments that will require participants to learn as much as they can about the course content before actually coming to the class or taking the eLearning course. This way they can spend the course time involved in the skill building and retention activities that are so important. The more time participants can spend practicing knowledge and skills, the more likely post-class support will reinforce, rather than supply, the learning.
Leadership should take the time to explain the purpose of the training, what is expected of participants in the training, and how the course will benefit individuals and the company. Also, they should explain the post-training reinforcement and accountability strategy. Without visible support of leadership, including accountability, the course becomes something from the training department that can be ignored. With ongoing support of leadership, reinforcement is more likely to be utilized.
The most important reinforcement tool for any participant is the ongoing support and accountability that comes with the involvement of their supervisor. The first step happens before the course when the employee meets with their supervisor to discuss the upcoming training and its objectives. Both should come to the meeting prepared with an awareness of that participant's developmental needs and priorities. During the meeting, they should select three or four of these that align with the course’s objectives so that the participant can focus on getting the most impact and benefit from the course. The participant should go into the course with the expectation of creating an action plan for how to take the key learnings and apply them to their actual job. They will also know that after the training, they will review the action plan with their supervisor as well as agree upon a SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Timely) measurement and accountability plan.
Of course, these strategies are designed to enhance and support ongoing training reinforcement techniques such as post-training quizzes, job aids or other just-in-time information, availability of SMEs, and other resources. But we often forget that the best place to ensure training reinforcement is before the class starts. This involves the planning of reinforcement strategies and events that happen before the training even begins. So the next time you are thinking about training reinforcement, don't forget to focus on what happens before the course!