Editor’s Note: A recent research report sheds light on common challenges learning leaders face. These challenges were discovered through research and surveys conducted over the course of a decade. In this series of articles, we will explore these challenges and how learning leaders are responding. This article is the fourth of an eight-part series.

The objective of any training program is impactful performance improvement and behavior change, as well as sustaining the impact of training. As simple of a task as that may sound, Training Industry research found that many L&D leaders find it challenging, and there are many elements that go into accomplishing such a goal. They include the effective evaluation of training and the collection of data to determine whether a learning behavior has changed, and whether that change has been sustained over time.

Consider a training session where, upon completion, the immediate response from learners was positive. What about after that? “Should we not be reinforcing that information and measuring its effectiveness?” asks Tony Martin, sales director at Wranx.

“As an industry, we are not effectively able to connect learning to behavior change,” says Oliver Craddock, CEO at Mind Tools. If L&D professionals are not able to show a connection between learning and behavior change, then proving its effectiveness will be all the more difficult. In order to connect learning to behavior change, L&D leaders must identify the key skills and behaviors that need to change and then determine the appropriate strategies and tools to reinforce the development and sustainment of those skills after training.

Reinforcing Learning

“Sustaining the impact is really looking again at the nature in which training is being delivered, and the frequency and pace [at which] it’s delivered,” says Martin.

To determine what reinforcement strategies and tools to use, L&D professionals should align reinforcement to learning objectives. “The core of a successful training reinforcement plan starts with understanding the frequency with which the new skill or behavior is used in the job setting,” writes Ken Taylor, president of Training Industry, Inc., in Training Industry Magazine. This frequency plays a pivotal role in developing a reinforcement strategy that sticks.

It’s important to “reinforce the information over time to give everyone who participated the same level of consistency and ability to retain knowledge,” says Martin. Pre- and post-training activities, especially ones completed on the job, can help in reinforcing that knowledge by putting skills into practice and requiring the recall of information over time.

The presence of pre-work can sometimes stress learners, especially when it comes to balancing it with work and home life. For training to successfully transfer on the job, L&D leaders have to change pre-work’s negative reputation into a more positive one that gains learner buy-in. For example, consider using short interactive videos or quizzes in addition to reading material. It also helps to view pre-work as a way to collect data on each individual’s skill level before the training session. Starting evaluation at the beginning of the training session allows for a better understanding of whether a behavior change was successful or not.

When developing learning content, remember that learning should be engaging, but most of all, it must be relevant to the learner’s life and the skills he or she is developing. “I believe that the value in creating a sustainable learning program, or in truly engaging our learners, is in proving the value of the content to them, showing them the relevancy and taking them through those critical paths to success,” says Kenneth Baucum, CPTM, training and development specialist at SageNet.

Similarly, for classroom experiences, whether in-person or virtual, Craddock suggests focusing discussions on people’s actual experiences, making for a more impactful learning session. “Technology offers the perfect way to effectively reinforce learning at scale,” says Craddock. He says technology can provide knowledge and resources to learners when they need them, but it can also prompt thinking before and after learning.

The end of a training program should not mark the end of learning. Post-training activities ensure successful learning transfer by deliberately putting the skills into practice on a regular basis. These activities can include the occasional quiz, coaching, mentoring or on-the-job training session, among others. Whatever the activity is, make sure it jogs the learner’s memory of the initial learning experience. Post-training activities can occur as frequently as needed (e.g., three, six or even nine months after training).

In addition to post-training activities, post-training evaluation is also important to determine if a behavior change and improvement was made and sustained over time. Baucum suggests taking the time to follow up with learners, their supervisors, and any other individuals who work with them and can add insight on how the learner has applied their new skills and behaviors on the job.

Gathering data from learners and individuals who interact with their work daily provides a more thorough understanding of how the performance improvement has impacted their work. Baucum says this information can help in improving future training sessions. It can also help “the employer and employee see where gaps are and address them accordingly,” says Martin.

“The Day Job Mentality”

Despite these reinforcement strategies, they’re not enough if the learner does not put forth the effort to learn. Baucum describes this behavior as the “day job mentality.” It happens when “learners are so busy with their ‘day job’ that they don’t devote the appropriate time for learning and developing themselves,” says Baucum. It’s L&D’s responsibility to show these individuals how crucial learning is to their work and professional development.

“Making learning more impactful is a change journey, and to make change happen in any organization, you need buy-in from a wide group of stakeholders,” says Craddock. This group includes learners. If they don’t have an interest in learning, then a reinforcement strategy, no matter how well developed, will not work.

Communicating about the benefits of learning is key to gaining learner buy-in, says Baucum. “If you build it well and prove the relevance and value, then the learners will respect and appreciate the value to them and help drive sustainability through real and lasting behavior change.”

You can also use technology “to encourage the personal investment someone may already have and take it to the next level,” says Martin. “Being mobile, I think, is key.” He recommends incorporating mobile learning and gamification into training delivery “to encourage and motivate people.”

To achieve the goal of making learning impactful and sustaining that impact after training, align learning objectives with reinforcement strategies, and implement those strategies into training design to ensure successful sustainment. Be sure to evaluate at all stages of the training program, and use that data to your advantage to improve future training sessions. Finally, whenever possible, communicate with learners about the importance of developing themselves.

Learning Leader Challenges

Don’t miss the other articles in this series: