Science of Learning - Dr. Art Kohn



Imagine you provide employees with a great seminar on essential leadership techniques. Even if everyone loved it, the sad fact is that no matter what you say, no matter how well you say it, research proves that 90 percent of the content will be forgotten within one week.

The good news is that if you deploy a strategic after-training program then you can dramatically improve employee retention, transfer, and ultimately enjoy a great return on your training investment. The ideal after-training program should be broken into three phases including cognitive reinforcement, social reinforcement, and behavioral reinforcement.

Cognitive Reinforcement

A cognitive reinforcement is a brief interaction that causes a learner to “effortfully recall” information in the hours and days after training. The simple process of recalling information causes the brain to “meta-tag” the information as important and in turn, prevents it from being forgotten.

For example, a manager might ask “Hey Bill, how do you plan to use these leadership skills on the job?” This question causes the learner to “effortfully recall” the information and in turn, the learner’s brain is dramatically more likely to retain it.

While it’s best if the boosts are delivered in a live conversation, technology can also be used to deliver boosts via email or text messages. The net effect will be a dramatic increase in retention.

Social Reinforcement

Social reinforcement needs to be deployed in the weeks after cognitive reinforcement. Use social reinforcement to keep your learners discussing your core messages. In addition to reinforcing memory, social reinforcement can solicit new ideas and identify best practices.

Using social reinforcement, your task is to create a “community of learners” who both generate and vet new ideas. By asking employees for their opinions, and by allowing them to critique one another, you give your learners the dignity of their job. What’s more, you inevitably learn from your students.

It is best if social reinforcements are delivered live. But in larger organizations, informal conversations are hard to manage and monitor, so technology or a social network can be used to manage the conversations.

Behavioral Reinforcement

Behavioral reinforcement is where you turn learning into action by reinforcing desired behaviors. The key maxim is to reward the specific behaviors that you want to increase. Unfortunately, many organizations reward employees for “completing training” or for scoring high on a follow-up quiz. This misses the point. It is not enough for managers to “understand effective leadership,” your real goal is to have them “lead effectively.” And to increase effective leadership, you need to both monitor it and reward it when it occurs.

This can be done easily and technology can help. For example, survey your learners and ask them how often they have utilized the training. These answers can not only help you identify and reward desired behaviors, they can also serve as testimonial, Level 4 evidence that proves the value of your training. In turn, you can take this data to your CFO next time you want to request a larger budget.

The 2+2+2 Methodology

Deploying a scheduled program of after-training can help employees recall and transfer their learning. The easiest way to remember the schedule is to think about the 2+2+2 methodology. Cognitive reinforcement should begin about two days after training and can consist of about four brief boosts. Social reinforcement should begin about two weeks after training and can consist of two discussion topics. Behavioral reinforcement should begin about two months after training and can consist of one to two interactions.

After-training may seem to be a lot of new work, but it is low hanging fruit that will dramatically increase retention and transfer. What you do after training is more important than what you do during training.