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Learning Reinforcement

Learning Reinforcement

Years ago, I was part of a large training development project. I worked in an organization where it took close to two years for a new customer service representative to learn about our business, processes, systems, and various offerings. The company was growing rapidly, and we could no longer afford that much time to ramp up employees through “on-the-job” training.

We contracted with a training consulting firm. This company provided facilitators, technical writers, and project managers to help us design and build our training program. We also assigned many of our own employees as “topic leaders” who assembled teams of subject matter experts to create the content. The scope of the project was quite large. There were three different curricula, each with ten to fifteen unique courses. Each course was built by a team consisting of a leader, facilitator, writer, and four to six SMEs. These teams met a couple of times each month at an offsite location, for as many as three to four days each time, for over eight months. It is easy to calculate how significant an investment this was for our organization.

All of this hard work and time resulted in the creation of three customer service training programs. One was a six week instructor-led course. The other two were four weeks each. Students would travel from their home location (we had offices in every major city in the world) to a designated regional training center where they would meet trainees from other offices as well as our seasoned customer service reps who were now doubling as instructors. The program was designed to have the students cycle between training and returning back on their job in two week increments. We estimated that the intensity and content provided in this learning experience would have new hire CSRs performing at a journeyman level in three months – one-eighth the time it took before the program.

Despite the planning and project management. Regardless of the subject matter expertise and professional design of the program. In spite of the experienced trainers and the dedicated participants, we missed a critical element - REINFORCEMENT!

Because we invested so much time, effort, and money in the building of the training program, we assumed it would naturally be supported on the local level. We soon learned that the opposite was true. Many offices had practices and procedures that differed from those taught in class. Students returned home to hear “I don’t care what they said in training, we do it differently here.” We had not created the necessary ties back to the business from the theories of the classroom. We did not design what needed to be in place “on-the-job” now that the CSR’s learning wasn’t taking place there anymore.

The immense effort to build and deliver the CS training program was the organization’s first attempt at formal learning. Several of us involved in this project went on to help establish the company’s first corporate university. We designed additional curricula and programs as well as revised the CS modules. And the lesson of learning reinforcement resonated as we built all subsequent programs. We investigated all practices and procedures across a department or function to ensure consistency. We garnered support and active participation from the managers in the field (in the creation and administration of training). We built support networks for new trainees to have teams of “buddies” to ask questions or share successes. Databases of supporting documentation, SOPs, and workflows were created and made available to all department members (not just trainees), ensuring consistent messaging instruction.

Ultimately, our training organization learned that our focus needed to be on the successful behavior change and capability increase of our students resulting from our programs AS MUCH AS the content and engagement built into our programs. Designing learning reinforcement activities beyond the classroom is the key.


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