Instructional design Workplace training

10 minute read

6 Strategies to Improve Learning Retention on Your Team

Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Maybe you just changed a long-standing, company-wide process. Perhaps you introduced a brand new piece of software that nobody knows how to use. Maybe you’re onboarding a new team member who needs to get up to speed within your organization or you just want your existing team members to brush up on some important skills.

Regardless of the specifics, there’s one thing you know for certain: Your employees are almost always learning.

But ask yourself this: Are they actually remembering what they’re taught? Or are they all promptly forgetting those important tips, skills, and procedures?

Unfortunately, plenty of research shows that learning retention rates are dismal at best. It’s estimated that people forget anywhere between 50 and 70% of what they learned after just one day. And as you can imagine, retention only continues in a steady nosedive as time goes on—something that’s frequently referred to as the “forgetting curve.”

These sorts of learning retention statistics are discouraging, especially when you consider that the average company spends around $1,252 per employee on training and development initiatives. Another study shows that U.S. companies spent a total of over $70 billion on training in the year 2016.

Needless to say, educating your employees a costly investment—and one you don’t want to waste by having that important information go in one ear and out the other.

So, what can you do? Here’s the good news: There are some tactics you can leverage to improve learning retention for your employees and make sure those development initiatives are actually worth it. Let’s dig in.

GoSkills gamification
GoSkills gamification dashboard

1. Use novelty to your advantage

If you’ve ever had to sit through an online course or training session where the host seemed to drone on and on forever about a bunch of stuff you already knew, you probably already recognize this: The brain has a preference for things that are unexpected.

To put this simply, we crave information that seems fresh or exciting. It holds our attention better.

However, we not only want this type of information—we actually learn better as a result of it. One 2006 study confirms that a novel environment actually sparks exploration and learning.

This is something that you can use to your advantage in your own elearning programs. How? By challenging yourself to come up with non-routine ways to educate your employees.

Could that information be presented in an interesting visual or even an interactive game as opposed to boring old bullet points? Could you throw in a surprising statistic or unexpected image?

Keeping lessons short and succinct (we’ll talk more about this as well as the importance of gamification a little later) is another way to boost the sense of novelty, as this gives employees the opportunity to view each lesson as an exciting new challenge or opportunity to learn—as opposed to just a small piece of a long, boring module.

2. Involve employees in their own learning

Do you remember the final score of the homecoming football game your senior year in high school? Probably not. But you know what? I bet the quarterback of your high school’s football team does.

That’s because we have a much easier time remembering things that we were actually involved in. Why? Because that involvement demands more of our senses.

You might think that auditory memory is the most powerful—that you’ll remember something if you just hear it. However, one study shows that isn’t the case. In fact, our tactile and visual memory almost always beats out our auditory memory.

That means just broadcasting important information to your employees isn’t an effective way for them to learn. Instead, get them involved in the process through things like:

  • Asking questions and giving quizzes
  • Using interactive slides
  • Instructing them to do something (whether it’s remembering a series of words or trying to lick their elbow—whatever fits your topic) to illustrate a point that you’re making

They’re seemingly minor involvements, but they can make all the difference in the learning retention of your employees.

3. Make learning fun with gamification

We already briefly touched on gamification, and it really is another great way to get employees involved while also boosting their memory of what was taught.

Much of this is because transforming learning into a game makes the whole process more enjoyable, and it’s been said that an employee’s ability to retain skills can increase by up to 40% when their work is made to be more fun.

Additionally, gamification can boost your employees’ perceptions of themselves—and, as a result, their motivation. You can choose custom rewards like the examples below – a free cup of coffee or even better, some tech goodies go a long way in motivation!

“The feeling of satisfaction, success, achievement, or victory which (a) game provides can actually trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, which makes the player feel better about themselves,” explains Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist.

4. Draw parallels between education and real life

You probably remember your own phone number, don’t you? And your social security number? And your home address?

But what about the birthday of one of your friends? Or what color shirt your co-worker was wearing yesterday?

There’s a big difference between these two categories of information. The first is highly relevant to your own life while the second is, well, not. Why does that matter? Well, neuroscience proves that we’re more likely to remember things that relate to us in some way.

This speaks to the importance of making sure employees understand how the information being presented actually matters to them and their careers.

Of course, this all starts by making sure that whatever you’re teaching is actually valuable. If you can’t point to a benefit an employee should be getting from that learning initiative, it’s likely not something that they should be participating in at all.

Next, throughout the online course, make sure you’re connecting the dots through various anecdotes, demonstrations, and best practices to show them how they can actually use what they’re learning in their daily work lives.

Doing so will give them those “a-ha!” moments and some beneficial knowledge that they can take with them—and thus, are far more likely to remember.

5. Exercise repetition (without being boring)

Most of us can’t be exposed to something once and then remember it.

Perhaps you’ve heard the of the “rule of seven” before, which is a marketing principle that states that a prospective customer should see or hear a marketing message from a company at least seven times before they actually buy.

What can you take away from that? Even if you aren’t currently focused on marketing, this principle demonstrates that learning retention requires a certain amount of repetition.

Covering a topic just once in your elearning module isn’t nearly enough. Plan to touch that concept at least three times—maybe once when you explain the basics, again when you offer a brief quiz, and then one more reiteration during the recap of that whole learning section.

It might seem redundant, but that repetition helps to move the information into your employees’ long-term memories, where more permanent knowledge and skills are stored.

6. Use microlearning

You have a lot you need to teach your employees, but nobody (not even you!) is going to remember all of the important information that was covered in a six-hour webinar or course.

Like we talked about when we discussed novelty, it’s much better to break information down into bite-sized chunks that make learning and retention far more manageable.

One study indicates that our working memory (think of this as the more active version of short-term memory) is limited to only three or four items at a time. So, bombarding your employees with way too much information will only backfire.

Instead, work on keeping your elearning modules focused on a maximum of three highly impactful key takeaways at a time—something that’s often referred to as microlearning. It’ll boost novelty (remember the importance of that?) while also ensuring your employees don’t feel overwhelmed.

Bonus: Try using just in time training (JIT) techniques for a more hands-on approach to training

Inspire your employees to learn (and remember)

Ideally, you want your employees to remember what’s taught to them. But effective employee training and development goes beyond knowing how to increase learning retention. You also need to inspire your employees to want to learn in the first place.

Of course, the above tips can help you do that, but there are a couple of other tactics that can motivate them to actively pursue more knowledge.

First, give them the chance to brag and share their own learning achievements (whether it’s in-person or on social media). Science says that talking about ourselves triggers the reward area of our brain, which will inspire employees to keep chasing that recognition.

Secondly, make it easy for them to set learning goals and track how they’re doing. This feeds into the progress principle, which states that making progress in meaningful work is one of the biggest contributors to improved motivation and perceptions during the workday.

Use those strategies to kickstart your employee’s hunger to learn—and then the above six tactics to boost their retention of what was covered—and you’ll have a team that’s knowledgeable, excited, and ready to do great work for your organization.

The best news of all? Encouraging learning and improving learning retention on your own team doesn’t have to be difficult. Check out GoSkills LMS for free today! It offers everything from gamification and goal tracking to social sharing.

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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. When she escapes her computer, she enjoys reading, hiking, golfing, and dishing out tips for prospective freelancers on her website.