Interval Reinforcement — Following Up on Training

by on February 20, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Rapid Learning Insights

In an earlier post we talked about how training doesn’t stick. Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a study back in 1885 and coined the term “The Forgetting Curve” to describe how knowledge retention is only about 20% one month after a learning event.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that many studies in the past 30 years have shown that if managers (or teachers, or coaches) follow up repeatedly in the days and weeks after a learning event, people can retain the majority of what they learned. We call this process “Interval Reinforcement.” Here are just a few of the studies I found:

    1. Cromwell and Kolb (2004) – Found that trainees who received higher levels of supervisory support retained and used more of the training knowledge than those who did not.
    1. Ford et al., 1992; and Axtell et al., 1997 – Found that if managers are supportive, then employees practice their skills, which leads to greater transfer of knowledge.
    1. Huczynski and Lewis, 1980 – Revealed that the extent to which supervisors revisit training has a powerful effect on retention.

So why doesn’t follow-up occur most of the time? The reason is that too often managers drop it to the bottom of their priority list. Follow-up is a pain. It’s extremely hard work. And only the most disciplined managers actually do it rigorously.

Managers drop the ball

Here’s a classic example of training dollars going straight down the drain. A sales manager feels a couple of his reps aren’t effective prospectors, so he sends them to a two-day sales conference with some hot speakers. The reps come back pumped up. They say they’ve learned some terrific new skills. That manager is thinking, “Great! It worked.” For a week or two the reps actually use the skills they learned at the conference and post better numbers. But then the numbers fall off. The manager doesn’t realize it, but within 30 days (remember Ebbinhaus) the reps have abandoned the new behaviors that led to better results immediately after the training event.

The manager thought he could get something for nothing. Never happens. If he really wanted to get his money’s worth for that training, he’s have gone himself and learned the same things the reps learned. He’d have held a meeting the first day back to review the key concepts they all learned. A day or two later he’s have listened to a rep on a prospecting call to see if she was implementing the new behaviors. A day or two after that, the manager would have listened again. After a week he’d have held a meeting with the two reps to review the key concepts again and ask them to describe what happened when they actually deployed them with prospects. What worked? What didn’t? He’d have praised the reps for what they did right. He’d have corrected them if they did something wrong.

If the manager followed up repeatedly after the conference and “inspected” what he “expected,” there’s a good chance the reps would have achieved permanent mastery of the skills they learned. And the company would have gotten a huge payoff on its training investment.

At the Rapid Learning Institute, we’re all about giving managers tools to follow up on training. Here’s a graphic showing how our Interval Reinforcement Plan works with our six- to 10-minute e-learning modules. But you can apply it to any kind of training — instructor-led training, a “sage on the stage” at a national conference, or a one-on-one coaching session between a manager and an employee.

You might want to take 8 minutes to watch an RLI rapid e-learning module called “Why 80% of Training Doesn’t Stick.” It explains “The Four Rs” a process that will help managers do effective follow-up after learning events.

Stephen Meyer
CEO/Director of Learning and Development
Rapid Learning Institute

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