As the articles in this issue demonstrate, building boosts into the sustain phase of your learning journeys is critical if you want to drive performance-based application. Learning professionals have moved beyond thinking in terms of pre-work and post-work, with its assumptions that the learning event in the middle of the journey is what counts the most. We recognize that knowledge reinforcement and continuous learning in the final phase of the journey can make a significant difference in the lasting impact of our programs.

One of the challenges we have as learning architects is how best to design those reinforcement and application boosts. There are two common design approaches to the sustain phase that appear to be diametric opposites: the Seamless Integration and the Grand Finale. If we tease out the best components of these two approaches, we can achieve a third design construct that is crafted around the meaningful workplace moments of our learners.

The Seamless Integration

This design approach maintains that the means to successful learning is to embed reinforcement into the workflow, as close to the point of application as possible. In this scenario, the learning boost is a just-in-time reminder, nudge or recalibration that prompts the learner to reflect on the skills and methods they learned earlier in the journey and apply them to the real situation they now face.

The Seamless Integration approach to the sustain phase is designed around quick hits and resources: micro-sims, context-specific learning nuggets, pop-up videos, Quick Reference Cards, mini diagnostics, etc. Some of these might be pushed out to learners in a structured way; some might be pulled by learners as and when they need them.

The persistent drumbeat of the Seamless Integration approach makes complete sense. The problem is that your sustain resources can be dismissed as “nice to haves” by your learners once the program is less front-of-mind and they are back in longue durée of their work patterns. The energy of the learning journey can dissipate in the sustain phase, trailing off into irrelevance as learners gradually forget the key points in the flurry of workday activities.

The Grand Finale

The Grand Finale design overcomes that problem by building up to a peak at the end of the learning campaign. As narrative design tells us, and as popular media demonstrate, any learner journey or compelling story should end in a climax, the culminating apex of energy, intensity and impact. The elements of the program come together in a rising crescendo and a milestone event. There’s no danger of your sustain phase running out of steam in this model; it concludes with a big, memorable experience.

Very good! But what comes next for the learner? Do we just depend on reminders and takeaways? And how does the learner translate this big experience back to the more mundane practicalities of worklife?

Have we reached a stalemate here?

The Meaningful Moments

Perhaps not. We can avoid the dilemma by reconsidering how we think of our learning boosts, mapping our sustain activities to the moments of everyday work behavior that are most important.

Meaningful moments don’t have to be high-adrenaline situations or revelations. Most of us expend and recharge our energy in micro-bursts. Meaningful moments can be daily habits that are contextually significant and carry impact.

As Chip and Dan Heath suggest in “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,” we can shape the peak moments in our learners’ worklife and connect our learning reinforcements to these personalized, high-impact situations (an annual review; a first time; a first day; a recognition; a stretch assignment; a threshold achievement). Being more intentional about how we align our learning boosts to elevated moments can enhance their effect. In this scenario, a learning boost is not a jolt or a nudge, but a surge.