Learning to forget? Maximising knowledge retention in your organisation

Justine Swain | 06/07/2018

As the technology available to us advances at an astonishing rate, the use of digital learning is becoming commonplace in the business world. Savvy business leaders know that harnessing evolving technology and combining it with digital learning is providing an unmissable opportunity to create a skilled, agile, and efficient workforce. But, to make the most of your digital learning, you must consider how your learners retain information.

There are many studies and theories about how we learn, how we remember, and how we forget what we have learnt. Theories such as the Atkinson Shiffrin model (1968) and the ‘forgetting curve’ from Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885/1913) show that the rate of forgetting can be alarming.  If we look at the science behind these reports, the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve shows us that learners will forget up to 50% of what they learned within an hour.

How can we ensure our learners are getting the best experience, and are retaining the correct knowledge? How can we be sure our digital learning efforts are not going to waste?

  1. Train your learners regularly

    We know learners forget content at a rapid speed after the initial learning experience. However, Ebbinghaus noted that individuals are able to relearn information more easily than learning the subject matter for the first time – and every time the information is repeated or relearned, the length of time taken to forget goes up, as demonstrated in Gwern.net’s diagram, below.  

    Forgetting Curve

    This shows that reminding individuals or content, is a great way of increasing knowledge retention.
  1. Real-world application

    Individuals are more likely to learn new information if it has a connection to real-world examples. So, scenario-based learning is a great way to help with knowledge retention. 

    Set up in three parts; the challenge, the choice and the consequence – scenario-based learning will enable individuals to put their learning into practice, without the fear or risk of failure. This will form a strong connection between the subject matter, potential outcomes, and the real-world scenario and therefore increase the likelihood of knowledge retention.
  1. Make it relevant

    With busy schedules, and often heavy workloads, the attention span of our learner can be low, with them being easily distracted. So, we need to make sure we’ve got their attention during the learning, if we want to stand any chance of knowledge retention.

    It is your role to ensure your learners are self-motivated and driven to learn. To do this you need to:

    a) Keep to the subject: ensure the subject matter is relevant to your learner’s role or the task they are trying to complete, keeping it concise and on subject

    b) Lead by example: make sure your senior managers are leading by example and actively participating in the eLearning courses

    c) Incentivise learning, without ‘forcing’ your learners to complete a course as part of a ‘box-ticking’ exercise. Show how expanded knowledge can help achieve job progression.
  1. Break it up

    There is a direct correlation between the volume of learning content and the amount of time it takes to absorb this information. So, if your learners are tasked with learning a large amount of content in one go – they’re certainly less likely to complete it, let alone retain it. Breaking up larger blocks of content into smaller, more manageable chunks is a great way to maximise retention.

    For example, if you have a complex subject that could take 2-3 hours to cover, and includes 8 topics, then cut the learning down into topic sized mini modules. Learners can complete a single topic whenever they want. Over the series of mini modules, you still cover the same 2-3 hours of content, but these small topic modules makes volume of content seem more manageable for your learners. They can dip in and out of the modules as and when they want, putting them in control, taking the learning when it suits them. This can help keep the learning appealing, and this can increase the chance of learners retaining the information in the long-term.  

So, there you have it; 4 handy hints to maximise learner retention. Because after all, eLearning is all well and good, but when push comes to shove, it counts for nothing if you don’t ensure that the messages are cemented, and your learners are remembering the information.

Justine Swain

Instructional Designer at Omniplex

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