If training starts in the classroom, everyone knows it doesn’t end there. As Bill Rosenthal pointed out, there is a learning curve and then there is a forgetting curve. But when it comes to employee learning and development, the forgetting curve can be a major obstacle.
According to recent research, only 10-15% of what is learned in training is actually transferred back to the job. Any staff training program will need to include strategies that help employees remember what they were taught and apply it. Here are a few to try out.
Give employees training resources to lean on.
You can’t avoid the forgetting curve entirely. No one is going to memorize everything they learned in class. Even doctors benefit from using checklists to remember basic best practices. So give your employees reminders.Checklists, mnemonics, or wall posters can briefly prompt them with the order and number of steps in important procedures.
Introduce resources during training programs; then, make sure people can easily find them. If you have a large library of regularly used reference documents, create a clear, searchable directory in which the title of each document makes it obvious what’s inside.
Build learning programs on what they already know.
Cognitive researchers know that linking new concepts to older ones makes it easier to recall the new ones. So if you’re helping employees remember a new skill, link it in as many ways as possible to existing knowledge.
For example, if you’re training on a new piece of equipment, connect the technical steps of using it with the conceptual steps of the process. And even better, train on the equipment in the work area, so visual and auditory clues help trainees remember the task as well.
Train employees on what’s needed now.
If employees can use what they just learned as soon as they leave the training, they’ll retain it longer. It’s often difficult to predict exactly what they’ll need, but the recent shift to micro-learning, short videos, or tools like Pract.us that employees can follow on their own makes it easier for them to get information as soon as they know they’ll need it.
If you don’t have specially-created micro-learning videos, help employees learn from each other by matching up more and less experienced team members and giving them time to work together.
Trim out irrelevant information from your training program.
Your employees will have a harder time remembering important information if it’s delivered together with useless noise. Ruthlessly review courses and materials to cull out anything that doesn’t directly help people do their jobs better in the near term.
Wait and repeat key learning points.
This strategy takes advantage of a well-researched technique called spaced retrieval. Essentially, you give people some time to forget information, then ask them to try and remember. Even if they fail, the right answers will lodge more firmly in long-term memory.
For example, if you wait a week after initial training, your team will start forgetting what they learned. You can then give a quick quiz on the content. The cognitive effort it takes to recall what was already slipping away will help secure it in long-term memory.
If employees need to remember procedures that aren’t often used but require fast recall, such as safety protocols, give quizzes on them at regular intervals after the training.
Don’t train employees, help them practice.
We have a concept of training that involves learning something and then knowing it. But real learning doesn’t work that way. We have to try things out. We have to repeat a task until it feels comfortable. (Think about how you learned to drive.)
We have to practice. So rather than stopping training after the classroom session or video, follow up with practice.
Give employees the information they need to understand what they’re doing and then let them at it. Give them the space to make mistakes and the support to help them over tough spots. But if they’ve learned a skill primarily through practicing it, they’re much less likely to forget it over time.
Don’t forget to plan to forget.
Forgetting is a natural part of learning. We have evolved to constantly winnow out information we don’t need as a survival mechanism. And our brains don’t distinguish between learning for survival in the jungle and learning for work.
So if we want employees to remember what they’ve just absorbed, we need to help them do it with specific strategies. It means that we can’t just send them to class or set them in front of a video and call training done. But it also means that everyone will get much more out of the time and money spent on skills development.
Want more strategies to flatten the forgetting curve? Check out what I learned from reading Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.
If your team is having trouble remembering their training, Pract.us can help you guide, support and manage post-training practice sessions for better retention.