Are you motivated at the end of a learning experience to put everything you just learned into practice? What about the next day? How about the next week? What about the next month?

Most of us lose that initial excitement and drive to change behavior after the first week (maybe even sooner). We also lose our ability to retain learned knowledge within days or weeks unless we make a conscious effort to revisit the material, a concept known as the forgetting curve.

I believe learning is a means to an end. The ultimate goals in learning are higher performance and better results. But how do you make learning stick so new skills are applied on the job? How do we create connections for our learners to the material that stick beyond the classroom?

Since 2019, our organization has focused on answering these questions. While we use several interventions to help with learner retention, there is one success story we want to share because of its simplicity. Learning reinforcement plans are a no-cost (outside of labor) solution that teams can immediately implement with their next learning intervention.

Learning reinforcement plans (LRPs) include two main components: coaching guides and weekly reinforcement messages.

Coaching guides are one-page documents sent to the learner’s supervisor post-learning. The document includes the event title, key learning and suggestions for continued growth on the learning topic. The key learning may include bulleted objectives, a brief description of the course topic or a model or framework that was introduced. The suggestions for continued growth typically include reflection opportunities, specific action items and learning recall questions. Both the supervisor and learner are emailed the coaching guide within days after the training finishes to encourage discussion in their next one-on-one meeting.

Weekly learning reinforcement messages are sent via email or through a team messaging platform. The messages typically include a quick review section with a learning recall question, refreshers and a call to action. We include the answer to the recall question in the following week’s message. The refreshers include tips, articles, podcasts, videos and/or reflection questions. The call to action is a challenge the learner can implement within the next week. Learning reinforcement messages are delivered through text or video over the course of four to eight weeks, depending on the learning topic’s complexity.

To measure the intervention’s success, we developed a Kirkpatrick Model Level 3 evaluation tool. Three months post-learning intervention, participants receive a five-question survey that includes the following agree/disagree statements:

  1. When I left the course, I was eager to change my behavior on the job/in my personal life.
  2. After taking this course, my supervisor and I discussed what I learned and how I could apply it to my job.
  3. In the past three months since taking this course, I have applied the skills I learned directly to my work area or in my personal life.
  4. In the past three months since taking this course, the skills I learned have helped to improve my work performance or personal life.
  5. I used the weekly follow-up content from this course to further my learning.

In the first year, we compared workshops with LRPs to those workshops without LRPs and saw a 16% higher applicability rating (question number three) for those with LRPs. Since reviewing this data, we have launched LRPs for most of our learning workshops and programming. The small number of workshops that do not include an LRP are monthly wellness sessions or education sessions taught by internal subject matter experts (SMEs) that are not part of the learning and development team.

After reviewing the data in more depth, we learned that there are higher ratings of improvement back on the job when the learner views the weekly learning reinforcement messages. We learned that involvement of the learner’s supervisor correlated with higher rates of viewing the weekly learning reinforcement messages and seeing improvement back on the job. We also learned that when learners are eager to change their behavior at the end of the intervention, there is a higher likeliness of viewing the weekly content and seeing improvement back on the job.

As we continue to evolve our learning reinforcement efforts, there are several solutions we continue to focus on. We recognize that we used one metric to measure success that focused on self-rating. To find more reliable ways to measure success, we are exploring using email automation tools to measure engagement with the messages. These solutions offer a way to assess whether learners are opening the messages and clicking on the tools shared in the messages. It’s a less subjective way to assess whether the material is being used.

We recognize that LRPs can overwhelm learners, especially if they are involved in multiple learning interventions each month. We have focused our message content to be brief with either a two-minute video message or short bulleted email highlighting the most important information. With some of our learning interventions, we are limiting the LRPs to a call to action only to improve the likeliness of application back on the job.

We recognize the essential role of the leader in a learner’s growth and development. We developed a toolkit and workshop for supervisors to provide tips and tools related to developing their employees and teams. We launched a virtual roadshow with leaders and teams to tie their goals and priorities with specific learning interventions we offer in our organization.

Finally, we recognize that LRPs are only one solution. Learning retention is a complex challenge and requires a multi-pronged approach. In addition to incorporating LRPs in our learning experiences, our team focuses on using best practices in course design, offering multi-level learning to dive deeper into topics, conducting follow-up coaching, building customized learning plans and hosting informal social learning opportunities.