If you’re reading this article you’re probably a big believer in the concept of interval reinforcement – or follow-up – to make training stick. I came across an interesting study from the United States Air Force Institute of Technology. The survey examined which “training transfer” strategies most effectively ensured that people retained what they learned.
One strategy mentioned was “Relapse Prevention.” Relapse is a term usually associated with drug or alcohol abuse. Could it be that techniques used to prevent a drug relapse could be used to prevent management trainees from falling back into dysfunctional pre-training behaviors? Turns out yes.
I’ve copied the relevant section of the study below if you want to read it, but let me cite two things that struck me about the relapse metaphor:
The term Relapse Prevention banishes all illusions about training “stickiness.”
- When you’re trying to rehabilitate a drug abuser, you have no illusions that the treatment will stick without post-treatment. In fact, many would argue that what happens after treatment is MORE important than the treatment itself. But in the workplace for some reason we assume that you can teach people something in training and expect it to stick. That’s totally false, but we tend to believe it. This explains why we spend 10% of our time and effort preparing for training, 85% on the training event itself, and just 5% on follow up. If the substance abuse relapse metaphor can help us dispel the illusion that training will stick without follow-up, we’ll be more likely to do what it takes to ensure people retain what they learned.
It gives managers direction.
- They can use many of the same strategies that drug rehabilitators use to pevent relapse. For example:
- Reinforce with trainees the advantages and disadvantages of applying their new skills. Motivation is key to knowledge retention. Managers need to make sure trainees see how their training will make them more
- Define a slip or relapse. During or immediately after the learning event, describe to the trainee what would suggest the employee is reverting back to pre-training behaviors.
- Attempt to predict the trainee’s first slip. An experienced manager will be able to predict the points where relapses most likely occur, and increase oversight at those points.
- Help employees cope with these slips. Managers must be prepared to intervene at relapse points and reinforce behaviors or even re-train the employee if necessary. It could also involve removing obstacles to training retention. For example, the person might need additional resources to implement his or her training effectively.
- As with substance abusers, workplace trainees will repeatedly relapse if they’re not carefully monitored by their managers.
When it comes to making training stick, and getting a positive return on training investment, follow-up is everything.
CEO/Director of Learning and Development
Rapid Learning Institute
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Here’s an excerpt from the study referred to above.
From Air Force Institute of Technology: “Management vs No-Management Knowledge Transfer from Training to Real Work Environments: A Meta Analysis. By Robert Toney, Captain, USAF. 2007.”
Relapse prevention has its origins in combating addictive behaviors like drug abuse and over-eating. Analysis of several groups revealed that circumstances causing an initial lapse in behavior after treatment had major implications for further slips and eventual resumption of the addictive behavior. (Marlatt and Gordon, 1980) They constructed a theoretical model to prevent setbacks in attaining freedom from the behaviors plaguing those in treatment.
Marx (1982) proposed a model of relapse prevention to help give managers the necessary cognitive and behavior skills to prevent minor lapses from turning into full scale. The original model created by Marlatt and Gordon (1980) for addictive behaviors can be easily used for managerial training because it views maintenance behavior from a
perspective that locates determinants of treatment failure and when those are identified they can be exploited during daily activities to prevent a relapse into pretraining behaviors.
Many of the empirical articles detailing relapse prevention use it as part of the experiments when measuring training transfer. A training program selects a group of trainees to go through one of two to three training sessions. One is a control that only entails the basic material to be applied in the workplace. The alternative class(es) have a follow-on session to teach relapse prevention skills.
Marx’s (1986) article on relapse prevention gave 7 steps to follow beginning with: setting a skill maintenance goal, operationally define a slip and relapse, detail the advantages and disadvantages of applying the new skills, learn 14 specific transfer strategies which consist of both cognitive and behavioral strategies, predict the trainees first slip, create skills to cope with that slip, and monitor their progress back on the job. Burke (1997) found that relapse prevention significantly, positively affected the trainees’ ability to transfer and desire to transfer.
Relapse prevention is important because it enhances the employee’s ability to continue using the methods obtained during training by resisting the temptation to backslide into old pre-trained habits which is imperative to giving the trainee more opportunities to replicate the trained behaviors at work. Burke and Baldwin (1999) used these seven steps for one group and steps 4,5, and 6 for a modified relapse prevention test group. The results concluded that in a non-conducive transfer climate the full (RP) training was better than the modified, but in a good transfer climate the modified (RP) training was more effective because the other steps of the full RP training were not needed to combat the poor transfer climate.
photo credit: cnystrom
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