Training Reinforcement: An Insurance Policy for Your Training

Few topics get people less excited than insurance. Some cringe in frustration. Others yawn with boredom.

Yet we all know in our heart of hearts that insurance is a necessity. This is especially true if you have experienced a major “hometrastrophe,” been rear-ended or needed an expensive medical treatment.

Many organizations think of their training as a form of insurance against things like poor employee performance, regulatory fines, and the risk of talented employees leaving their organization. Organizations collectively spend billions of dollars on this insurance. But how do they make sure that all of this training is doing what it’s supposed to do? What’s the point of even having training if your learners can’t remember what they need to be successful? What’s the impact if they can’t stand taking the training?

Just like we all hope to avoid the scary surprise that a major accident or prescription drug is in fact not covered by our insurance policy, organizations would do well to make sure the insurance they are buying (training) does what they need it to do. Here’s the honest truth: training won’t get you the results you want unless you include training reinforcement in your overall design.

Training Reinforcement 101

Traditional training is typically conducted in an event-based model. The course is sent out… and learners complete it. Sales reps fly in for the national sales meeting, learn about this year’s new products… and then return to their territories to keep doing things the same way they were before.

Reinforcement breaks this cycle by turning the event-based model into a campaign-based model. Instead of thinking about individual events and courses, trainers plan an extended campaign that includes multiple touch points, reminders and review opportunities.

Access our webinar recording on Reinforcement 101: How to Help Reps Say and Do the Right Thing to identify the best training reinforcement strategy for your organization.


Types of Training Reinforcement

There are many different tools and reinforcement methods available to help you, depending on the learning need. The approach you choose should depend on whether you need learners to find and locate what they need or recall it from memory at the moment of need. Most training reinforcement programs incorporate tools that support both of these needs.

1. Performance support tools

Performance support is easy to understand. After training is over, you want your learners to be able to look up the information that was covered. But what good is a SharePoint site if learners can’t easily access it on their mobile device? Are they able to easily search for what they need? What good is a support PDF if it is already out of date the moment you email it or paste the link in your LMS?

Modern performance support tools are mobile-first (or at least mobile-optimized), searchable, and easy to access. When content is updated, learners instantly have the latest version. The technology is here and surprisingly easy to implement in most cases. The key is to focus performance support tools on important – but not frequently performed – content, knowledge, and skills. If learners are constantly returning to reference a particular piece of content, they may need to learn some of it “cold.”

2. Spaced repetition

Need learners to perform a skill or deliver a specific message to a customer without looking it up? You should plan a reinforcement program that incorporates spaced repetition. Numerous studies have shown that learners retain more information when they have the opportunity to review and relearn it multiple times over several days or weeks. Spaced repetition is especially valuable when you want to make sure sales reps are all delivering the same message or employees know the right steps to follow in a frequently performed process.

3. Microlearning

Microlearning and spaced repetition often go hand in hand. It allows you to reinforce the most important concepts and need-to-know information after a training event without requiring a large time commitment from learners. While learners should refer to your performance support tool when they need to look something up, the knowledge you need them to recall from memory should be frequently reinforced in small chunks. Microlearning is highly effective for training reinforcement, but don’t let the hype deceive you: it isn’t always the answer.

We designed Knowledge Guru’s new Drive app with this use case in mind. The app delivers customized daily mini-games to learners on their mobile devices. Each play session takes only five minutes to complete.

4. Mobile learning

While many organizations still deliver the majority of their training on computers, most of us do the lion’s share of online tasks on mobile devices. Even if your primary training event takes place on a desktop or in a classroom, chances are high that at least part of your reinforcement strategy will involve mobile delivery. A sound training needs analysis will help you identify the delivery method that is most useful to your learners.

5. Coaching

Coaching is the most “old school” of all the methods I’ve described. It still works, and in many cases, it is the most impactful training reinforcement method of all. The question should not be “should we coach?” but rather “who will coach and how will we make our coaches successful?” In many cases, the folks who you need as coaches are some of the busiest people in your organization. It’s important to give coaches the support, tools, and technology they need to succeed.

A variety of learning technologies exist to make coaches better at what they do. For example, the dashboard in one of our Knowledge Guru apps allows coaches to see how a learner’s confidence compares to their actual performance level on different topics. Arming coaches with relevant data is one way to help coaches be more successful in their role.

6. Reminders and Promotions

Trainers could learn a great deal from marketers. Six years in a marketing role have taught me that messages need to be clear, concise and repeated often. Trainers who see the best results from our Knowledge Guru platform put on marketing hats when they roll out their programs. A consistent theme, mixed mediums, timely emails, and easy-to-find hyperlinks to the relevant material are essential. Contests and competitions, when implemented well, make learners more likely to engage.

We all know in our heart of hearts that we need insurance. I think we also know that training as a one-time event doesn’t work. Training reinforcement is the answer… and it’s more than a nice-to-have.

Spaced Repetition Featured in the New York Times

spacedlearning

You’ve seen us write articles and publish white papers on the science of remembering for well over a year now. We are big believers in the spacing effect, and using what we know about the brain to enhance what people remember. Doing so has a measurable impact on employee retention from training, among other things.

It seems the New York Times has taken interest in spaced repetition as well. In a weekend editorial titled “How Tests Make Us Smarter,” Dr. Henry Roediger discusses how testing can be used as a valid tool to promote learning. Specifically, testing requires learners to retrieve knowledge from memory. According to Roediger, knowledge is solidified in our working memory when we practice retrieving and using it.

According to NYTimes.com, Henry L. Roediger III is a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis and a co-author of “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.”

Dr. Roediger goes on to mention how “many studies reveal that much of what we learn is quickly forgotten.” Therefore, “a central challenge to learning is finding a way to stem forgetting.” We could not agree more. Our research on the science of remembering (and forgetting) often comes back to the often-cited, and often misunderstood “Forgetting Curve.”

But testing alone does not provide the desired increase in retention. Here’s Roediger’s take. I’ve bolded some key points:

Retrieving knowledge from memory is more beneficial when practice sessions are spaced out so that some forgetting occurs before you try to retrieve again. The added effort required to recall the information makes learning stronger. It also helps when retrieval practice is mixed up — whether you’re practicing hitting different kinds of baseball pitches or solving different solid geometry problems in a random sequence, you are better able later to discriminate what kind of pitch or geometry problem you’re facing and find the correct solution.

While Dr. Roediger’s OpEd is specifically focused on testing students, the key points are applicable to corporate learning as well. In our Primer on Spaced Repetition and Feedback Loops, I connected the challenge of remembering  to the constant effort organization’s expend to deliver information employees need to know for their jobs. Rather than test scores, a great deal more is at stake. Organizations depend on their training to help employees have less accidents, make more sales, provide better customer service and make fewer mistakes.

Just like in the K-12 environment, the most common corporate learning methods are actually the least effective for learning when we take a look at the research. “Click next” eLearning courses, instructor-led sessions and PowerPoint slides are simply not enough to foster long term retention.

For this reason, we consistently integrate spaced repetition and feedback loops into both the custom learning solutions we develop and into the design of our Knowledge Guru game engine. We work with our customers to help them integrate Knowledge Guru games into a larger curriculum to maximize the retention benefits.

And while we carefully built spaced repetition into the design of Knowledge Guru, the research-based principles are available for anyone to take advantage of. As Roediger puts it, “As learners encounter increasingly complex ideas, a regimen of retrieval practice helps them to form more sophisticated mental structures that can be applied later in different circumstances.”

I encourage you to read the full article on NewYorkTimes.com. Then, have a look at Dr. Karl Kapp’s take on spaced repetition or “retrieval practice.”

How to Make Employee On-boarding Memorable… In a Good Way

Onboarding

New employee on-boarding is hard on both the new hire and the manager. Most companies have a metaphorical onion of jargon, policies, procedures, and culture mores, and it can take weeks or even months for new employees to feel comfortable and be productive.

Large organizations have a dedicated HR department that updates the policies and procedures these employees need to know… and there are probably quite a few of them. Small organizations may not even have an HR department, leaving it to the new employee’s manager to get them everything they need quickly.

Either way, starting a new job often means rapidly acquiring huge amounts of new knowledge and skills. Some of this learning is directly related to job performance, while the rest is based on finding the right information, following the right processes and understanding the “company vernacular.”

Even companies with a well-developed “Corporate University” or fleshed out on-boarding program run into problems when new hires fail to remember what they learned in those introductory courses and sessions. Without proper reinforcement and spacing of key concepts, new employees will quickly forget the flood of new information. Instructor-led sessions and eLearning courses, even when well designed, fall short in driving true retention.

New research has shown that Ebbinghaus’ famous Forgetting Curve, which can approach 90% in lost information, is dependent on prior skills and experience. Learners with a prior framework for the new knowledge may only forget 30% without reinforcement, for example. Since new employees are usually new to the company, they are likely to fall closer to that 90% level of forgetting. When the policies and procedures actually matter, this becomes a huge problem for organizations to solve.

How We Fixed Our On-boarding Program

Our company, Bottom-Line Performance, has experienced nearly 100% growth in the last 2.5 years. We are still a small operation (just under 30 employees), but the growth has been rapid. While managers have traditionally handled the on-boarding and created 30 and 90-day programs for their new employees, our company has struggled to help new employees “learn the lingo” and understand basic processes and procedures. In the past, most folks have learned by piecing information together from various co-workers. They learn the ropes eventually, but the feedback is often “I wish I would have felt more comfortable learning and following the processes and terminology in the first three months.”

Our solution? Use our Knowledge Guru game engine to create a “BLP Guru” game to teach process, procedures and jargon! Employee on-boarding information is well-suited for the spaced repetition-based game engine.

Basics of using Knowledge Guru for on-boarding:

  • Our game covered policies and procedures, jargon and the “BLP Toolbox.” We wove workplace scenarios into all the topics.
  • New hires review the handbook, then play the game with handbook close by. The game reinforces concepts that may have been explained by a manager and also teaches new concepts.
  • The feedback provided for incorrect responses helps employees avoid embedding incorrect information.
  • Achievements, leaderboards and the “See the Standings” page give new hires a sense of connection and camaraderie (plus some needed motivation!)
  • The iterative questions and spaced repetition reinforce key learning objectives we identified as essential for all new hires to know or do.
  • When job titles, tools and policies change, we are easily able to update the game content (or change to a new game entirely) in the admin dashboard.

Scroll through the screenshots below to see some highlights of the BLP Guru Game. You can also request a demo for a complete walkthrough of how to use Knowledge Guru in an employee on-boarding program.

 

Basic policies and procedures work well within Knowledge Guru games.

Basic policies and procedures work well within Knowledge Guru games.

Images can be combined with relevant questions, such as this "find and locate" question.

Images can be combined with relevant questions, such as this “find and locate” question.

Players learn from their mistakes and receive feedback when they answer questions incorrectly.

Players learn from their mistakes and receive feedback when they answer questions incorrectly.

Rewards and achievements make otherwise dry content motivating.

Rewards and achievements make otherwise dry content motivating.

Players receive badges and topic mastery achievements when they complete on-boarding topics.

Players receive badges and topic mastery achievements when they complete on-boarding topics.

The "See the Standings" page shows where all new hires have progressed in the game. The leaderboards build camaraderie, too.

The “See the Standings” page shows where all new hires have progressed in the game. The leaderboards build camaraderie, too.

When the policies and procedures inevitably change, the game content is easy to update.

When the policies and procedures inevitably change, the game content is easy to update.

Four Strategies for Long-Term Retention in Corporate Learning (White Paper)

In some organizations, training is a “check the box,” “we’ve always done it this way” activity. That may work in some situations, but what about when remembering really matters? Corporate learning professionals need strategies to improve both knowledge transfer during the initial learning event as well as the rate of long-term retention.

Sharon Boller, Knowledge Guru creator and Chief Product Officer, has authored a new white paper on strategies you can use to help learners remember. It includes the learning and remembering strategies used in Knowledge Guru alongside other strategies we use time and again in our custom solutions.

Most importantly, you’ll find five unique business challenges in the white paper… and the strategies we used to solve those challenges for our clients.

The white paper is available as a free download in the Learning Center on our Bottom-Line Performance website. Click here or click the image below to download the white paper.

remembering-matters-clouds

This white paper, together with our Primer on Spaced Repetition and Feedback Loops, serve as the ideal introduction to the research-based learning principles we use in our Knowledge Guru games. We incorporate these strategies for learning and remembering into all of the custom learning solutions we develop as well. By studying the white paper, you will be able to:

  • Apply research-based strategies for both learning and remembering into your own learning designs.
  • Effectively use Knowledge Guru as a tool to increase learner retention.
  • Ensure any solution you implement at your organization is backed by research-based learning principles.

Download the white paper here.

Spaced Retrieval, Retrieval Practice, and Knowledge Guru: What Research Tells Us

spaced-retrieval-practice-banner

Knowledge Guru’s game engine is designed to tap into two powerful and empirically supported instructional strategies—Retrieval Practice and Spaced Retrieval.

About Retrieval Practice and Spaced Retrieval

Retrieval Practice requires learners to recall information rather than simply re-read or re-listen to it. A review of the pertinent scientific literature reveals that the benefits of retrieval practice have been known for at least 100 years and they have been demonstrated with many diverse groups [1]. Retrieval Practice alone can provide improved recall performance by as much as 10-20%. [2] When combined with Spaced Retrieval the effect is multiplied. In fact, “the act of retrieving information from memory actually alters the retrieved memory by elaborating on the existing memory trace and/or creating additional retrieval routes. One consequence of these changes is that the probability of successful retrieval in the future is increased, making testing a potent mechanism for enhancing long term retention.”[3]

spaced-repetition

 

Spaced Retrieval involves providing students with quiz or course content spaced over time and it, too, is among the most robust findings in educational psychology research. [4] It turns out that the greater the amount of spacing between retrieval events, the greater the potential benefit to retention. Spaced Retrieval helps learners retain access to memorized information over long periods of time because the spacing promotes deeper processing of the learned material. Ideally, the time between the learning events is greater than 24 hours, but shorter times have also been found to be effective. As long as 8 years after an original training, learners with spaced practices showed better retention than those who practiced in a more concentrated time period. [5]

Spaced Retrieval avoids two inherent problems with mass practice (learning all the information at once); the problems of learner fatigue and the likelihood of interference with preceding and succeeding learning.

So How Effective is Spaced Retrieval and Retrieval Practice?

One study combining Spaced Retrieval and Retrieval Practice indicated retention benefits of between 35-60% for students in the subject matter of Anatomy and Physiology over the control group. [6]

Additionally, using the combination of a quizzing game and online lectures, student’s minds will focus more on the course and wander less, which is always an issue in online learning. Researchers have found that by interspersing online lectures with short tests, student mind-wandering decreased by half, note-taking tripled, and overall retention of the material improved. As the researchers indicated, “In our experiments, when we asked students if they were mind-wandering, they said yes roughly 40 percent of the time. It’s a significant problem.” But using online quizzing in a manner such as Knowledge Guru will reduce mind wandering and increase performance.

In one study, Harvard researchers asked participants to learn from a 21-minute video lecture on statistics. The participants were also told that the lecture would be divided in four parts, separated by a break. The students were all told that they might be quizzed at any time. In reality, only one condition had quizzing the first three times. All conditions had the quiz the fourth time. [7]

During the break, researchers asked the participants to perform math problems for one minute. Then they would assign the participants to one of three groups:

  • Perform more math problems for two more minutes (“untested group”)
  • Answer quiz questions for two minutes on the material they had just learned (“tested group”)
  • Review by seeing questions with the answers provided (“restudy group.”)

The Results

The results showed that the tested students took more notes during the lecture and also reported that their minds wandered less (19% as compared to 40%).  In addition, the students who were tested on all segments outperformed both of the other groups (Tested = 90%, Restudy = 76%, Non-tested = 68). Another finding was that students who were tested after each segment indicated that they were less anxious about the fourth test than students from the other two groups.

What the Results Can Tell Us

The researchers believe that the testing at the end of each segment acts as an incentive for students to pay closer attention. It’s more important to pay attention if they know they’ll have to answer questions at the end of each segment.

The researchers concluded: “The present results… highlight the specific cognitive mechanism by which testing can facilitate learning. In particular, one can use testing to help students sustain attention to lecture content in a manner that discourages task-irrelevant (mind wandering) and encourages task-relevant (note taking) activities, and hence improves learning. Importantly, the benefits of testing for learning were accompanied by reductions in test anxiety (possibly because students became accustomed to testing style or as a result of positive feedback from earlier tests) and subjective estimates of cognitive demand.”

References cited

[1] Larsen DP, Butler AC, Roediger HL 3rd. Repeated testing improves long-term retention relative to repeated study: a randomized  controlled trial. Med Educ  43: 1174–1181, 2009.

[2] Dobson, J. L. (2013) Retrieval practice is an efficient method of enhancing the retention of anatomy and physiology information Advances in Physiology Education 37: 184–191, 2013; doi:10.1152/advan.00174.2012.

[3] Roediger, H. L., & Butler, A.C . (2013). Retrieval practice (testing) effect. In H. L. Pashler (Ed.),Encyclopedia of the mind. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing Co.

[4] Carpenter SK, DeLosh EL. (2005) Application of the testing and spacing effects to name learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology 19: 619–636, 2005. And Cull W. (2000) Untangling the benefits of multiple study opportunities and repeated testing for cued recall. Applied Cognitive Psychology 14: 215–235, 2000. And Cull W, Shaughnessy JJ, Zechmeister EB.(1996) Expanding understanding of the expanding-pattern-of-retrieval mnemonic:toward confidence in applicability. Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied 2: 365–378.

[5] Kapp, K. M. (2012) The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. New York: Pfeiffer.

[6] Dobson, J. L. (2013) Retrieval practice is an efficient method of enhancing the retention of anatomy and physiology information Advances in Physiology Education 37: 184–191, 2013; doi:10.1152/advan.00174.2012.

[7] Szpunar, K. K., Khan, N. &, & Schacter, D. L. (2013). Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online April 1, 2013 doi:10.1073/pnas.122176411