Thirty years ago, management expert Peter Senge coined one of the enduring truisms of organizational training. “The only sustainable competitive advantage,” he wrote, “is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.”
When he published The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization in 1990, businesses had been undergoing a major shift in how they created value for almost 20 years.1 Intangible assets such as business process knowledge, patents, brand recognition, and, above all, a company’s employees’ ability to learn, were displacing physical assets — machinery, buildings, land, inventory — as the primary drivers of shareholder value.
But intangibles were notoriously difficult to quantify. Business functions across companies overhauled how they measured success, but L&D fell behind. Training remained slow and costly, and L&D still doled out the same stale measures of success — courses completed, participation rates, quiz scores. It’s no wonder that companies laid off L&D departments and outsourced their jobs.
Thirty years have changed everything. L&D still wrestles with small budgets, but now new scientific and technological trends have converged to transform the training landscape in their favour. Advances in cognitive science; massive cloud computing and data analytics capabilities; and the rich user experience of mobile devices now make it possible to create compelling business cases for your training programs. At last, you can quantify the return on investment (ROI) your programs will reap.
How the forgetting curve kills your business case
The forgetting curve forces demands we revise Peter Senge’s famous statement: “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition, and to remember what it has learned.”
Training Reinforcement effect turns learning into doing
Training reinforcement counters the forgetting process and bridges the gap between learning and doing. This graph shows the effect of a training reinforcement program. Training reinforcement programs, when delivered over a training reinforcement platform designed for the purpose, flatten the forgetting curve by spacing out memory recall activities at key intervals after formal training ends. It enables a learner to remember up to 80 per cent of what they were taught.
New to microlearning and training reinforcement? Read our article for a comprehensice definition of microlearning.
Memory recall activities are short and efficient, usually taking just a few minutes a day. Research shows that the act of recalling previously taught information strengthens your mental pathways, enabling your brain to retrieve the knowledge you have acquired.
And training reinforcement’s pattern of consumption differs dramatically from classroom training and eLearning. Instead of setting aside a block of hours or days in a classroom or in front of a computer, the learning recall activities of training reinforcement take just minutes a day, spread out over a few weeks or months. Training reinforcement won’t interrupt your employees’ daily work.Training reinforcement is especially suited for mobile devices. Training reinforcement activities, which may take anywhere from three to ten minutes, can fit into the free moments that open up unpredictably in each employee’s workday. These micro-moments tend to appear when you are away from your desk: perhaps at lunch in the cafeteria, at the gym, or while waiting to pick up the kids from school.3. Reinforcement activities may include short quizzes styled for learning retention, not for evaluation; tips sent as push notifications to employees’ smartphones; flashcards for self-testing and memorization; and challenges framed as competitive or non-competitive learning games.
The business impact of training reinforcement
The most important business impact of training reinforcement is that it assures the ROI of your whole training program. Without it, you jeopardize the success of your entire training enterprise.
In 2014 the Aberdeen Group, a market research firm, surveyed 260 organizations to examine best practices in sales training. They found that 146 of these companies (56 per cent) take no action whatsoever to help their employees retain the knowledge they have been taught at a training event. 4 They leave no space in their budget for the training reinforcement that is critical for making their overall training investment succeed. Sooner or later their executives will realize that their training investment was a waste of money.
Training Reinforcement assures the ROI of your entire training program
Training reinforcement’s tangible impact shows up in hard business results. Companies that practice training reinforcement see 17 per cent more of their business-to-business sales professionals, and 14 percent more of their sales teams, hit their annual sales targets compared with other companies. But the reinforcement effect is greatest among new hires: 34 per cent more of them reach their first-year sales quotas than do their peers working at other companies.5Training reinforcement also correlates with best-in-class sales practices. Companies that reinforce sales training are 64 percent more likely to follow an evolving sales methodology; 58 percent more likely to keep a central repository of best practices; and 74 percent more likely to have a formal process in place to capture and share tacit knowledge.
Why training reinforcement makes sense
Training reinforcement offers you important business advantages and won’t break the bank.
Fast and simple to make
- A training reinforcement program is faster and far cheaper to produce than a classroom or eLearning course. Its activities are focused around questions. If you can write a good question you can build an effective training reinforcement program.
- Training reinforcement platforms usually come with content creation tools that are easy to use, no coding required.
- You don’t need to find new source material, because training reinforcement reuses the material you have already taught.
- Training reinforcement platforms bypass the long cycle of approvals and negotiations with your IT department. They are usually sold on a Software-as-a-Service basis (SaaS) requiring virtually no internal IT resources, and they can scale quickly. This makes them excellent solutions for business units that need to move faster than the rest of their company.
Get practical tips on how to create microlearning content that will drive maximum learner engagement and multiply your ROI in our article on the dos and don’t of microlearning.
Excellent business value
- Stay ahead of shifting markets and the changing needs of your workforce by getting training into the hands of your employees right away.
- Achieve proficiency in new technologies, regulations, and skills faster than your competitors.
- Training reinforcement costs a fraction of the rest of your training.
- Spend your training budget efficiently by instilling enduring knowledge in your employees the first time. Training reinforcement averts costly refresher courses that teach your employees the same stuff all over again.
- If you are an L&D department, demonstrate your value by delivering more successful training to more employees for less money.
- Provide quantitative measurements to prove your program’s success. Training reinforcement platforms have detailed analytics features built on artificial intelligence engines. You can prove the business impact of your training reinforcement programs by correlating these granular measurements with your company’s business metrics.
- Squeeze extra value from your investment by using your training reinforcement capabilities for other learning needs. Prepare learners before formal training by sending microlearning content to their mobile devices. Give instructors the ability to use your training reinforcement platform to add media-rich experiences to their classrooms. They can release pop quizzes, animation, or videos that classroom learners can view immediately on their smartphones.
Training reinforcement provides what training departments used to wish for in vain. Cost-effective learning programs that are easy to build, that instill new knowledge and skills in your employees the first time, won’t take them away from their jobs, will deliver the highly detailed measurements that business units need, and, above all, can prove an L&D department’s value to senior executives.
Training reinforcement’s greatest benefit is in making sure your formal training programs deliver the return on investment your business case promises. Intangible employee knowledge and skills can now deliver tangible business results. Training reinforcement has become part of a virtuous cycle that organizations can no longer afford to ignore.
- Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2006).
- Most academic studies follow Ebbinghaus in presenting 80 per cent as the amount of information we forget after a few days. But many factors converge to affect the pace at which any one individual forgets. For example, a learner is more likely to retain knowledge when they can connect it to what they already know, a variable that most controlled studies eliminate in the interest of scientific methodology and feasibility. Whenever you hear numbers like 80 per cent bandied about, remember that they are, at best, generalized averages under controlled experimental conditions that only apply to very few among any group of real-world learners.
- Sridhar Ramaswamy, “How Micro-Moments Are Changing the Rules,” Google, April 2015, https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/ articles/how-micromoments-are-changing-rules.html
- Peter Ostrow, Once Is Not Enough: Why Sales Training Reinforcement Is a Must-Have (Aberdeen Group, May 2014).
- Ostrow, Once Is Not Enough