Tip #782: How to Reinforce Learning

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

A learning curve study shows that if you don’t reinforce what has been learned, the participants will forget 90% of it within 30 days. That means that 90% of the training will be scrap, or useless, unless we are proactive.

So how do we reinforce learning to ensure retention and application? Ongoing communication with participants before and after the training, post-class project assignments, microlearning tips, and partnerships with the participants’ managers are some of the ways we can do this.

Patty Gaul identifies 5 Ways to Create Greater Learner Retention:

  1. Create a WIIFM hook.

It helps if this is done even before the training session, to predispose the participants to want to learn the content. She quotes three questions that David Smith suggests in an ATD blog: “To Engage the Modern Learner, Start With Why”:

  • Why will this training course change what you do in your job role?
  • Why should you want to attend and pay attention? [I suggest you answer this question from the standpoint of how it will benefit the participants rather than answering that it is legally required or mandatory.]
  • Why is the pre-work necessary?

I also suggest incorporating a learning objective that speaks to how the learning will benefit the participants, so the idea is reinforced during the training session.

  1. Create a series of touchpoints.

This communication with participants should begin prior to the training by letting them know the “key program concepts, program expectations, course length, level of difficulty and what is required for completion.” (Krista Singleton and Melissa Winebarger in R.A.C.E. to the Training Finish Line.)

It should continue after the training session: “Designers should incorporate spaced learning and repetition to plan activities afterward that continue to enable learners to apply newly gained skills to keep them sharp.”

Micro learning tips are a good means to this end, particularly tips that ask questions that reinforce the participants’ need to find ways of applying their new learning on the job.

  1. Create applicable connections.

In other words, ATD Education Facilitator Nikki O’Keeffe recommends that we include projects for completion after the training session- then follow up to check on the participants’ progress.

  1. Create a support network.

Facilitators can create the network by setting up discussion boards or LinkedIn groups to connect course attendees to each other.

  1. Create a culture of accountability.

Get buy in from the participants’ managers or mentors so they will revisit the content with their direct reports after the training session. O’Keeffe offers questions that managers can ask their direct reports to refresh the learning and make sure new skills are being applied.

I’ve added three more:

  1. Create job aids.

These aids may be digital, 5-minute lessons accessible on their mobile phones, written, or incorporated into computer programs. I mentioned the knowledge hub in the previous Tip. The job aids should serve as an instant refresher of the key content.

  1. Create automaticity.

Provide time for sufficient practice during the class and afterwards so that using the new skills becomes automatic.

  1. Create a sense of competence.

Participants who feel confident that they have achieved a level of competence in a new skill are more likely to retain and use it once they get back to the worksite. Sufficient practice is a key to this.

Note: This need to find a way to ensure transfer from the classroom to the worksite could be eliminated if the training occurred in the worksite and directly pertained to the work the participants need to accomplish.

I think the easiest way to ensure retention is to teach only what the participants need to know to do their jobs (so there is no scrap), create some intrinsic motivation, and have them immediately apply what they learned when they get back to their jobs. Real world /real work practice will reinforce learning, particularly if the new skills are essential to job completion. But it is definitely a good idea for managers to watch to see when and how the new skills are applied, so they can provide verbal reinforcement and encouragement.

May your learning be sweet.


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