The solution seems simple enough: We bring in a team of experts to train our people in the right way to do something, or we push out content through our LMS. Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, no. Companies spend more than $140 billion on training and development worldwide, but almost half of employees say it isn’t helping. Worse, businesses aren’t getting the results they want, either.
What are we doing wrong? For starters, most traditional training methods do not consider the way that people actually learn and retain information. We’re ignoring brain science and losing billions in wholly preventable accidents and errors.
What Brain Science Tells Us
“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” You’ve probably heard this phrase countless times. It is usually applied to telling someone to use his or her head, but it also applies to what is inside our heads.
The fact is that our brain is a highly organized, economical machine. It sifts through information and retains only what is most critical. That is why, for example, we don’t recall everything we ate over the past week. It also explains why memories of events fade over time. The brain eventually deletes information we no longer need in order to make way for new, and seemingly more important, information.
This knowledge has critical implications for the way we provide training to our employees, because if we don’t give them the right information and get them to use this information on the job, their brains won’t remember what they need to achieve specific outcomes. That’s why it is critical to incorporate memory-building techniques like repeated retrieval, spaced repetition and microlearning into corporate learning to ensure employees can remember the information they need to achieve desired outcomes.
Play on Repeat
The latest brain science confirms that the more we force the brain to retrieve information – for example, asking it for the answer to the same question repeatedly – the more easily we will remember the information. Repeated retrieval embeds this information. Good training should require people to embed knowledge through repetition, but that isn’t the norm. Most training is done in a single shot, without any follow up, which doesn’t ensure employees will remember what they learned. If they don’t remember what to do, they’ll fall back into old habits, which won’t move the business where it needs to go. In fact, providing inaccurate information to customers or following improper procedures could hold the business back.
Knowledge Bases over Checked Boxes
We all want results, and results are not a checked box on a training scorecard. Results are things like fewer errors, fewer safety incidences and cost reductions. Cramming may have worked for exams in school, but in business, if you want people to actually follow company procedures, you need them to recall what they’ve learned.
To build a knowledge base that is permanently etched in the brain, spacing out both learning and recall over time results in higher levels of information retention. By providing employees with smaller bits of daily microlearning over a longer period, instead of sitting them down for a one-off training session once in a blue moon, you can help employees build their knowledge base continuously and make both learning and recall instinctive. That means when it’s time to do their job, they know exactly what they need to do to perform at their best – no guesswork required.
The Problem with Event-Style Learning
The information dumps that accompany traditional event-style training simply ensure that material will end up forgotten. There is no opportunity to repeat – no opportunity to space out learning or provide the smaller chunks of information that our brains require for maximum retention. In fact, this type of training contradicts everything brain science tells us will work.
What We Should Be Doing Instead
We need to give the brain the kind of training it works with best: bits of information delivered continuously with maximum opportunities for repeated retrieval and spaced repetition. Give people the knowledge they need and the opportunity to access it within their workday. Otherwise, they’ll forget the training altogether, and your efforts will be pointless. What’s worse, all that money invested in training will be wasted. And employee errors, safety incidents, poor customer service and other issues will just continue to hurt the business.