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Boosting training retention - going beyond the Forgetting Curve

DevLearn 2023 was packed with great content, something that resonated wasn't something new. In fact it has roots in the 19th century.

10th November 2023

Boosting training retention - going beyond the Forgetting Curve
Recently, I had the privilege of attending an excellent preseantation at the DevLearn conference in Las Vegas this October, where the focus was on new technologies in corporate training.

Art Kohn, a respected Professor with the ASPIRE Consulting Group, presented a compelling narrative that struck a chord with every L&D professional in the room. As someone who’s deeply entrenched in the world of experiential learning, the topic resonated with me profoundly: How can we ensure that training isn't just a transient experience but a lasting cornerstone of employee development?

The premise of Professor Kohn's discussion was a pain point we've all encountered—companies invest a staggering $20 billion annually in training, but retention and application of knowledge remain woefully low. The University of Florida has shed light on a path forward, underscoring the efficacy of 'booster training' in enhancing long-term memory, which, in turn, significantly boosts corporate ROI.

During the hands-on seminar, Professor Kohn didn’t just outline the problem; he equipped us with actionable solutions. We delved into the construction of booster training utilizing free software, enabling reinforcement of both formal and informal learning.

Here's the heart of what we unpacked:

1. The Forgetting Curve:
Firstly, we must acknowledge our adversary—the Forgetting Curve. Coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 19th century, it describes how information is lost over time when there's no attempt to retain it. Essentially, without reinforcement, the knowledge we acquire starts diminishing from our memory almost immediately after learning.

2. Overcoming the Curve:
We explored valuable techniques to combat this curve. Professor Kohn emphasized the significance of booster quizzing, social elaboration, strategic coaching, and depth of processing—each method a cog in the machinery of effective learning retention.

3. Booster Quizzing:
This involves spaced repetition, a direct descendant of Ebbinghaus’s principles. By reintroducing training concepts through quizzes over time, we reinforce the neural pathways needed for long-term retention.

4. Social Elaboration:

Learning is inherently social. By discussing and elaborating on training material with peers, employees engage in a deeper processing level, promoting better memory retention.

5. Strategic Coaching:
Post-training coaching is a critical follow-through that should be concise yet impactful, driving the practical application of learned skills.

6. Depth of Processing:
This method calls for learners to engage with the material on a deeper level—moving beyond rote memorization to understanding and applying concepts in various contexts.

Throughout the seminar, the interactivity was enlightening. We weren’t just passively absorbing; we were applying these techniques in real-time, experiencing the 'learning by doing' model I advocate so fervently.

But what about after the training session ends? That's where the true challenge lies. You've probably experienced this in your organization: An employee attends a training session, brimming with enthusiasm, only to return to work and be swept up in the daily grind, the newly acquired knowledge slowly fading away.

To address this, Kohn introduced the concept of social learning—where knowledge retention is bolstered by the community. Think discussion forums, collaborative projects, or even simple coffee machine chats where the training content becomes a topic of conversation.

Next up was post-training coaching. With minimal effort, coaching can translate to considerable gains in the application of training. It's not just about imparting knowledge but ensuring it's being used effectively in the workplace.

The seminar concluded with an emphasis on behavior change and ROI measurement—how do we translate learning into action, and how do we quantify the value it adds?

This is where my work with Experiential Learning Tools ties in seamlessly. Our tools are designed not just to educate but to enable and inspire action. Incorporating these booster techniques is not a mere possibility but a necessity. By extending the learning experience through carefully designed follow-up activities, we can combat the natural decline of memory retention as dictated by the Forgetting Curve.

So, what's the takeaway from all this? It's quite clear that we need to be strategic and proactive in our approach to training. The methodologies shared by Art Kohn offer a robust framework for designing training programs that don't just impart knowledge but ensure it sticks.

As we look to the future, one thing is evident: the learning landscape is continuously evolving. Our strategies must evolve too, not only to keep pace but to lead the charge in creating enduring knowledge and skills within our organizations.

The message from the DevLearn conference was loud and clear: It’s time to boost our training experiences from one-off events to enduring journeys of growth. If this resonates with you, I encourage you to get in touch with Experiential Learning Tools. Let's make learning stick together.

Graham @experientialLT

A core member of the ELT Team

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