Learning Reinforcement—Don’t Leave this to Chance

When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

Raise your hand if you routinely add refresher learning content and coaching and performance guidance into the project design and development plans you write? Anybody? Assuming this will just happen on its own is a risk to the employees’ success and the project success, too.

What does this mean, exactly? When the learning content project is a new business initiative, a system implementation, major building move, organizational culture change—whatever it is—leaving the performance coaching and performance planning and metrics to others leaves things open for interpretation and error. Ever heard the old saying, “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”? In other words, the planning of the design and development of your projects (see the end of this article for descriptions of all the steps in the process) also must include the plan for how learning reinforcement will intentionally be realized. Note: Intentionally, means whatever is true for your organization, with respect to structure, culture, how performance planning is done, and the project itself.

Why is adding these elements to the design and development plan important? For a variety of different reasons. Here are a few of them:

  • When achieving certain business goals or targets, with expectations being pushed down on people, choosing to be intentional and as specific as possible at all phases of the learning is required.
  • Planning a learning strategy without including these elements is an incomplete plan or strategy.
  • “Once and done” is not a strategy that any of us should think is the best way forward.
  • Learning retention goes down when learners are required to memorize several chunks of new content—whether tasks, new skills, business processes, definitions, and the like.
  • Taking responsibility for this being done with the learners’ success in mind is the right thing to do.
  • It doesn’t work to leave it to chance.

Who is responsible for ensuring this happens? It depends on the way things look and work in your organization. However, the short answer is whoever is responsible for leading instructional design in the organization.

The what, the why, and the who have been identified. Now for a few ideas on the how to get you started:

Refresher Learning Content

  • Plan refresher learning along with the initial set(s) of learning content. In other words, don’t wait until you find out there are mixed messages.
  • Determine whether there are any existing internal systems that could be used as delivery method or system.
  • When planning the overall learning content strategy, also determine a relevant timeframe(s) when it would be best to pull the learners back into the “classroom” to refresh the learners’ memories or provide “intermediate” or “advanced” learning content.
  • Provide learners with scenarios to complete to refresh their memories and learning to ensure they are successful.
  • Use push notifications (one tip or reminder per push notification—daily or weekly, etc.). This includes words such as: Tips, Best Practices, Remember, Don’t Forget. It is learning content delivered by e-mail, text message, via the company’s intranet homepage—wherever makes them most effective.

Performance Support Tools

Such tools include whatever is brief and delivers just what is needed, right when the learners need it because there are likely new things to pay attention to. And it is best not to assume everyone learns everything the first time through—especially when things are new, and memorizing is not the way everyone becomes adept. The list of what might work and applies is nearly endless. A few ideas:

  • Brief video demos of key procedures, possibly accompanied by reminder narrative and/or callouts.
  • Job aids or cheat sheets
  • Project-specific or new learning-specific “dictionaries”
  • Chatbot or other types of artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Recursive questions
  • “Tip of the Day”
  • Best practice sharing forum

Performance Coaching on New Skills or Tasks

Create a leader coaching plan that aligns with the performance objectives the learning content was crafted to achieve, with specific guidance on things such as:

  • What the learners are supposed to be doing differently and how they are to do so successfully—and by when.
  • Specific definition of what success looks like.
  • Suggestions for how best to observe learners on the job. Maybe a checklist, too.
  • Tips or rubric on how to rate individual learners’ degree(s) of success.
  • Suggested language and discussion starters to coach each learner to succeed.
  • Key timing and/or timeframe(s) as to when the learners are expected to realize each level of success and how to coach them best at each interval.

Additional Reading


Design Plan: Using the results of the needs assessment, you will craft a report of findings and a remediation plan or strategy, called a Needs Analysis for the stakeholder(s). The plan should include the overall design, meaning a layout or map, of the various aspects of the learning content.

Development Plan and Schedule: This will look like resource planning and include how many people will be involved and for how long; any new existing software or other tools needed; a schedule for completion, including all milestones and deadlines; expectations of all involved explained; a communication plan; meeting schedule, etc.

Learning Reinforcement: This includes refresher learning content, on-the-job training (OJT) or job coaching, performance support tools, performance coaching, and performance metrics. All are related to the new learning and expectations.

Performance Support Tools: These are items crafted for learners to use when back on the job. The list of what qualifies is nearly endless.

Performance Coaching for New Skills or Tasks: When learners are expected to successfully incorporate new skills or tasks into their workstream, the level of success they achieve is directly linked to how they are coached. Don’t leave their success to chance. Instead, build a coaching guide(s) and schedule for exactly how learners will reach each level of success and by when.

Dawn J. Mahoney, CPTD, owns Learning in The White Space LLC, a freelance talent development (“training”) and instructional design consultancy. She is passionate about developing people through better training, better instructional design, and better dialog. E-mail her at: dawnjmahoney@gmail.com.