Learning retention


4th February, 2021

5 smart tactics to improve employee learning retention

In an increasingly virtual working environment, employee learning retention is becoming a critical factor in training and development.

Imagine spending time and money on developing and implementing a meticulous employee training program only to realise that a few months later, your employees have forgotten it all.

This is one of the biggest challenges plaguing learning and development professionals — it stems from a theory called the Forgetting Curve.

Coined by German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, this theory talks about how quickly humans forget what they learn. His research showed that:

  • 42 percent of what was learned was lost within 20 minutes
  • 67 percent was forgotten within 24 hours
  • 79 percent was lost a month later

This rate of memory deterioration is incredibly alarming for workplaces that invest heavily in employee training and development.

Let’s take a look at how you can improve employee learning retention and maximise your training goals.

1. Create bite-sized visual content

According to a study, we retain 10-20 percent of written or spoken information as compared to almost 65 percent of visual information.

This shows that one of the most effective ways to improve learning retention is to incorporate visual content in your training material.

Not only do visuals attract attention and keep learners engaged but they also create a lasting impression and have a stronger recall power.

Break the training modules into smaller, manageable chunks and create bite-sized visual content to help learners process and digest that information. Make sure these content pieces are focused on a single objective to avoid overwhelming the reader.

Here are some types of visuals you can use:

  • Infographics
  • Illustrations and icons
  • Charts and graphs
  • Mind maps
  • Flow charts

Here’s an example of a timeline template you can use. Instead of communicating the same information in words, using such a visual is likely to be etched in people’s memories.

Improve learning retention with timelines
Using a timeline like this makes information easier to retain. (Source: Venngage, click to view).

2. Adopt active learning methods

Imagine being on the receiving end of a monologue or being given endless online course material to go through. Sounds tiresome, isn’t it?

It’s impersonal and far from being engaging.

Given this mode of training, there’s no way your employees will be invested in the program let alone remembering what they read or hear.

The solution lies in employing active learning methods that involve employees in their learning process.

This way, they are not just made to “hear” or “read”, they are encouraged to “do” which goes a long way in improving the employee experience and boosting the recall value of what they’ve learned.

According to a Forbes article, “Active learning drives better retention of knowledge, and once employees have the expertise on a subject, they will be better able to make decisions, drive strategy and execute.”

Here are a few active learning methods you can incorporate into your training program:

  • Conduct problem-solving sessions to brainstorm solutions
  • Use gamification elements such as scoreboards and rewards to motivate employees
  • Conduct group discussions and collaboration exercises to promote social learning
  • Use real-life scenarios to create relevance and relatability
  • Create polls and surveys to encourage participation

3. Use job aids

It’s important to remember that employee training doesn’t end with the course. For the knowledge to stick, you need to create a culture of continuous learning in the workplace.

One of the ways to supplement the training program even after it’s over is by using job aids.

Typically one page or less, job aids are instructions that remind employees how to do a task or help them apply the information they’ve learned during the course of the training.

With strong copy and visuals, job aids are meant to offer quick information to learners and improve learning retention.

There are many job aid formats you can use such as:

  • Step-by-step job aids to provide directions or instructions
  • Flow chart job aids to aid decision-making
  • Checklist job aids to help employees finish tasks
  • Reference guide job aids to deliver information

Here’s an example of a decision-making flow chart job aid. It uses visual cues such as different shapes and colors, making the information easy to understand and digest.

Flow charts for learning retention
Simple, easy-to-understand flow charts are incredibly useful for training and development. (Source: Venngage, click to view).

4. Schedule 1:1 follow-ups

Back in school and college, we’ve all relied on repetition and reinforcement exercises to improve our memory and retain information. The same logic applies to employee training and development programs.

Instead of treating them as a one-off, companies need to establish a well-rounded process that is centered around tracking employee training progress.

This can be done by assigning mentors and having them schedule one-on-one follow-up meetings post-training.

The idea is to get feedback on how the training was received, what the employee is doing to achieve their individual training goals, and how they can implement their learnings in their day-to-day work.

Regularly checking-in keeps employees invested in their growth and improves learning retention.

5. Create opportunities to implement learnings

The end goal of every training program is to strengthen the workforce and enable employees to contribute to the growth of the organization.

So, it’s safe to say that a training program is considered successful when employees are able to transfer their learnings to their job.

This is why it’s important to create opportunities that encourage employees to implement their learnings. This keeps the training alive and helps them apply what they’ve learned to real-life scenarios that matter.

The takeaway: improve employee learning retention

Regardless of how elaborate your training program is, if you’re not taking measures to improve learning retention, none of it will matter.

These five tactics will help you promote continuous learning that is focused on developing employees and empowering them to use their knowledge and skills to achieve business goals.