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What’s the Key to Improving Learning Outcomes? Train, Reinforce, Repeat!

June 26 2017 | (1) Comment
Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve

Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

There’s an inherent problem with training of any kind, and that problem is that we humans have the tendency to forget what we’ve learned. Not only do we forget what we’ve learned, but we start forgetting what we’ve learned almost immediately. We can lose more than 50% of what we’ve learned after one day’s time and we can lose 90% of what we’ve learned within a month. Subsequently, our training initiatives may not be delivering the impact and results that we’ve anticipated.

The theory of forgetting dates back to 1885 when Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, pioneered the experimental study of memory. Ebbinghaus discovered what’s known to us today as the Forgetting Curve and the spacing effect. The Forgetting Curve suggests that what we’ve learned, or our memory retention, declines over time, especially when there’s no attempt to retain it. Additionally, as individuals, we forget at different speeds. The speed of forgetting depends on numerous factors such as the difficulty of the learned material, how meaningful it is to us, its representation, and physiological factors such as stress and sleep.

How do we deliver training that’s impactful, memorable and that delivers the results that we need? The less is more rule will not apply here, in fact, learning generally happens through repeated experiences. Reinforcing training through repetition is one of the best strategies you can use to improve your learners’ memory retention. Spacing your training over time makes your training easier to remember. Why is this? Information is easier to recall when it’s built upon things you already know!

Another strategy to increase learning retention is to shorten your training and make it easy to understand. How you present your information is just as important as how often. Perhaps a short video clip would be more memorable than flipping through a 10-page PowerPoint slide deck. A 2-paragraph case study accompanied by a quiz may be far more memorable than a 45-minute webinar. These microlearning opportunities have proven to be easier for learners to absorb, retain and recall. Quizzes, tests, and assessments can also be incorporated into your training so that you can measure learning retention and gauge how much additional training learners require on an individual basis.

Relevancy also plays a role in learning retention. The more relevant the training, the easier it is to recall. Learning activities can be tied to real workplace challenges by integrating scenarios and simulations that highlight positive or negative outcomes based on what’s covered in the training.

Lastly, we are apt to learn when we’re doing something that we enjoy. When your learners are aligned in a role that they truly enjoy, then they are far more receptive to training and development. As Albert Einstein once advised his son, “That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

Depending upon the industry that we serve and our unique organizational structures, the results of our training, or lack thereof, can be quite costly. Developing a comprehensive, long tail approach to training can be far more impactful for improving learning outcomes.

Susan Distasio | eLearning Industry Crusader | ePath Learning, Inc.

Picture of industry crusader Susan DistasioAbout the Author:  Susan Distasio is an eLearning Industry Crusader focused on advocating for advancement and change in the eLearning and professional development industry.  An avid seeker of knowledge and continuous improvement, Susan is happy to share her research, observations, and thoughts regarding “all things related to learning and development.”  When she’s not out on the learning crusade, Susan can be found with the wind in her hair riding her Harley or simply enjoying life with her husband, Steve, and her Siamese cat, Elvis, and with family and friends.