Training isn’t cheap. Employers spent $87.6 billion on training last year in the US, according to one source. At least some of that investment is wasted because trainees will forget the material. Thank Hermann Ebbinghaus, a 19th century German psychologist for what became known as the forgetting curve. Ebbinghaus used himself as a guinea pig to determine how quickly a person forgets complicated information they just received. Ebbinghaus was a smart cookie, but his experiments revealed that he quickly forgot most everything.
It’s the same for the rest of us. A lot of the complex information thrown at us escapes our brain almost as soon as it enters. If you deliver training that includes elaborate content, the forgetting curve can be a real danger. It can make it difficult to prove a training offering has a long-term impact. As a result, an organization’s training investment may be vulnerable at budget time.
Use it or lose it
We’re familiar with the forgetting curve at Learning Stream. Without taking specific measures to address it, our new software customers would not retain much of what they need to effectively leverage the system. We, and others who want to win against the forgetting curve, follow five essential steps:
- Reinforce and repeat quickly. Training is most effective when there is only a short time between multi-part trainings, or when trainees quickly put their newfound knowledge into practice. For example, delivering a teacher workshop just before the start of summer break may negatively impact retention.
- Connect the training to something trainees already know. Using Learning Stream as an example again, we show users how to employ the system to address processes they already know well—only with a lot more automation.
- Keep sessions short. It’s different in each training situation. However, the amount of information learners can squeeze into their noggins erodes the longer a session goes.
- Address different learning styles. Plan for various learning styles such as visual, auditory, hands on, etc. For example, give homework in between sessions and follow live training with a recording of it.
- Offer plenty of refreshers. Shorter versions that hit the highlights of an original training can help content gain a solid, long-term foothold in a person’s brain.