We don’t need Hermann Ebbinghaus, a renowned German psychologist, to tell us that we tend to forget more than half of what we learn within just a few days. We all experience it every time we learn something new…and forget most of it by the end of the week. But he was the first to study this phenomenon and display it graphically through his forgetting curve.

What does the forgetting curve mean to L&D professionals? Does it mean that half our efforts and money go down the drain in just a few days? It’s not that bad. Ebbinghaus also found out that the rate of forgetting is drastically reduced when people have opportunities to periodically revise what they have learned.

In other words, if we can reinforce learning through well-spaced revisions, we can beat the forgetting curve.

Of course, that is easier said than done. It is quite a challenge to train people in the first place, with employees’ inherent resistance to taking a classroom or online course, combined with the constant difficulty in getting budgets approved. So, how do we organize reinforcement sessions?

On-Demand Training or Performance Support

One way is to space out portions of the training based on the learners’ needs. For example, if sales representatives have undergone a product training session in a classroom, break up the entire content of the training into disparate nuggets and make them available when they need them. For example, offer a piece on competitors’ intelligence when sales reps are about to face competition at a customer’s place, or offer a customer segment-specific piece when they are about to pitch in that segment.

It’s useful to convert information from initial classroom training into online modules that employees can refer to when needed. Short “how-to” videos, for example, can help employees use new software or equipment. Salespeople can find help in the form of videos that address a typical sales situation or customer objection. Employees can play safety videos regularly on the shop floor of a manufacturing unit.

Other forms of support include collaborative forums and discussion boards in the company’s LMS or intranet portal. These tools give employees the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences while sharing suggestions and solutions.

Planned Periodic Reinforcement Initiatives

The second type of reinforcement is planned periodic training initiatives. They can be an integral part of long-term training and development. For example, when new employees enter an organization, they often participate in a week-long classroom training program, followed by a formal online assessment to evaluate their understanding. If there are areas in which they need to brush up on their knowledge, online modules can review material from the classroom program. Employees then have opportunities to evaluate their knowledge periodically and to be certified annually. This training workflow can be roughly depicted with this chart:

Take a training needs assessment test. --> Complete a training program based on the training need. --> Take an online assessment, resulting in certification. --> Access resources, course modules and job aids when needed for better performance. --> Evaluate knowledge transfer and learning periodically through short quizzes. --> (Optional) Recertify annually.

Technology plays an important role at every stage of the learning process. While you may do the initial training in a classroom or online, you can do training assessment, reinforcement and evaluation with technological interventions. All you need are these resources:

  • Software programs to produce e-learning modules, videos, assessments or other digital resources
  • An LMS to host the programs
  • A committed team of managers and L&D team members to coordinate and execute the program

Learning technology is an effective and efficient enabler. In the hands of enlightened L&D professionals, it can beat the harsh forgetting curve.

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