Learning & Development

What Is the Role of Reinforcement in Effective Training?

Content and delivery are not necessarily to blame when training fails to drive long-lasting behavioral change. More often, the blame rests with a lack of reinforcement back on the job, says Mike Ryan, senior vice president of Marketing and Strategy for Madison Performance Group (www.MadisonPG.com). “Training is a key business imperative, but the long-term results are falling short because there is little reinforcement in real-world business scenarios.”

Training professionals can bolster the effectiveness of training—and the company’s return on investment in it—by sending periodic e-mails to learners featuring key points about the training topic, providing job aids, and training supervisors on role modeling. Ryan also stresses the importance of putting training in context for learners and aligning behavioral change to rewards and recognition as a means of reinforcing the training message.


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He explains that learners will be more engaged in training if they understand specifically how it pertains to them and their role in the company. “Before they absorb a new procedure or a new process, they have got to understand why it’s important to them.”

Ryan also advocates setting individualized goals for learners to pursue after training and having supervisors reward achievement of those goals via the company’s employee recognition program. Just as employees earn points for attaining other milestones, Ryan says they should earn points for demonstrating training proficiencies and, ideally, be able to pool all of their points and redeem them for catalog merchandise, a gift card, or other rewards.


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However, Ryan says posttraining goals and objectives must be “reasonable and attainable.” For example, after sales training, a manager might sit with each sales professional and set a goal to sell a specific number of new products within a given time frame.

The sales professional could be awarded points not only for ultimately attaining that goal but also for achieving certain milestones leading up to it, such as rehearsing his or her sales pitch with the manager.