This post originally appeared on Sounding Board’s blog, and is republished here with permission. Christine Tao is founder of Sounding Board, which offers scalable, digitally-enabled leadership coaching.
Most of you have heard or seen this statistic before: Within 30 days people have forgotten roughly 80% of what they have learned. It comes from the “forgetting curve” which was introduced by Hermann Ebbinghaus many years ago.
Yet many companies are still investing in “one and done” trainings for their employees. In some ways, it’s hard to get away from it – after all, sharing materials in a workshop or training is the most straightforward way to ensure that you’ve delivered all the content that someone needs to know in order to do their job. But what can you do to get more of that training to stick, or to really, truly impact someone’s development?
There are a few different factors that lead to low retention on training. We’ve highlighted a few below that are important to be aware of. From there, think about how you can incorporate different features into your development programs to increase their impact.
- Information Overload
- Lack of Frequency/Consistency
Think about how your lessons were structured when you were in grade school or middle school. You would be taught some new concepts, and then assigned homework or exercises to reinforce those concepts. Finally, you’d get tested on them to see how much you retain. The main difference between this approach and the approach often taken in companies is the timeframe over which this learning happened. You might spend an entire semester on a small number of topics in school – whereas in organizations you get at best a day or maybe a couple of days, all condensed together. It’s no wonder we feel overloaded when we come out of a training.
Tip: Companies should think about breaking up their training into shorter, more digestible pieces over time. According to the Rapid Learning Institute, 9 out of 10 learning professionals prioritized short-form learning in 2014.
Rapid Learning Institute
This could mean spreading training or workshops over the course of an employee’s time with the company. Most companies are not sending employees off to week long trainings anymore either. We’ve seen many move to shorter sessions, or focus on just one topic at a time, to prevent information overload.
Lack of Frequency or Consistency
Another common issue is that trainings will happen once and then never get revisited. A good example is new manager training. Companies will often spend a lot of time developing new manager trainings that employees take when they first get promoted. These are important trainings, because critical foundational information like how to run performance reviews, HR policies, and expectations around management style & approach are often shared. But then managers are then “left out to pasture” to apply concepts, ideas on their own. This is tough on new managers given how many different situations and challenges they face in their new role.
Tip: Related to the above, companies can think about breaking up the training so that it is spread over time. Managers get into a cadence and habit of constantly learning on the job. L&D teams should also have an approach for how the learning is reinforced post-training – whether that is coaching manager of managers to integrate concepts into how they run operationally, or even following up with post-training surveys, tests or bite-sized content/learning modules 3, 6 or 9 months after trainings. Spacing training has been studied and demonstrated to have a longer retention time of 2 years.
One of the most critical factors impacting employee motivation to learn and knowledge retention is relevance of the content. How many times have you heard something only to think “how does this actually help me in my job?”
At that point, you’ve probably already tuned out the content and the likelihood that you retain and leverage it are very low. The fact that people have different learning styles, experience levels and expertise also exacerbate the impact of “one-size-fits-all” trainings. Particularly in leadership or management skills, what one person lacks in confidence or executive presence may be a time management or productivity issue for another person. Both may have a large impact on their ability to really grow as a leader, but the content and support they would need would be drastically different.
Tip: Think about how to personalize your development efforts cost-effectively with reasonable investments on time. While there will often be a base foundation that is consistent across everyone, it’s often the individual gaps that really start to come into play as people move up in an organization. Pay attention to the phase and stage of career that employees are at. This can be a driver of the extent of customization that they need in their training in order to get to the “next level”. This can be addressed in either smaller groups, 1:1 coaching or specific trainings targeted to address specific skillsets.
With the pace of change in business, companies need to be even more thoughtful about how the trainings and development programs they create are relevant to employee skill sets and the current business needs of the organization. More and more companies are moving to more real-time, personalized development programs, which can be training-based or coaching-based. And many are testing different types of e-learning or on-the-go learning through mobile apps.
The good news is that there are more and more choices out there now for companies, and technology is helping to scale and bring down the costs of delivering that development. It’s very much the premise that Sounding Board was built on, and we’re excited about the all the different approaches there are to develop our most important assets – our people!