Why the Forgetting Curve matters to L&D

In a recent Harvard Business Review article about where companies go wrong with learning and development, the article stated that organisations spent $359 billion globally on training in 2016. It’s an interesting article, and definitely worth a read. One element of the article stood out for us particularly and this was the Forgetting Curve. The Forgetting Curve is a model that suggests that six days after learning something, if we haven’t applied our new knowledge, 75% of it will disappear. Based on what we’ve seen in real-life situations, whether it’s classroom or elearning, this does seem to be the case. Clearly this is something that needs to be addressed as part of any L&D strategy, so we’ve put together some tips for knowledge retention that you can implement in your organisation.

Take a blended approach

We’re very clear as a training provider that we advocate a blended approach wherever possible. Training suppliers tend to be either classroom or elearning focused, which makes it difficult to produce a consistent blended experience. That’s why Lawford Knight offers both in the form of blended solutions. We believe that this offers our customers an holistic solution to meet the learning and development needs of their people.

A blended approach offers the best of both worlds and can hugely increase engagement levels and the retention of the knowledge after the training. We wrote in our previous article about taking a blended approach to break down courses into more manageable chunks of offline and online content. For example, when classroom training courses have significant ‘introductory’ elements at the beginning, these could be done in a webinar or virtual classroom session before the training event in person. This then makes much better use of the face to face time, bearing in mind that people will almost certainly have travelled to get to the training venue, which costs money and time.

Moving this introductory content into an online form also means that the training is being staged which is known to help with knowledge retention. It also means that people can get to know each other a little bit before they meet face to face which again will help the face to face element run more smoothly. Why not try this in your next training intervention?

Arrange to follow up

When we deliver classroom training, we’re careful to make the point that the learners must apply their new knowledge quickly to avoid it disappearing. If the course is on practical skills such as sales techniques, then the best way for learners to apply their knowledge is to immediately go out and start using it in sales calls. If it’s systems training, they should use the system that they’ve been trained on as soon as possible. If the system is not live yet, then a sandbox or test environment should be provided to the learners. This is critical in large-scale implementations where people are often trained a few weeks before the system goes live.

Arranging follow ups after the training keeps track on whether learners are applying their knowledge, how they’re finding it, and whether they need any specific coaching to help them to apply it. It also provides an incentive for them to apply it because they don’t want to attend a follow up session having not done anything. If we as learning and development professionals don’t follow up, we are letting our learners down. After all, the company is making an investment in learning and development content and courses, so return on investment should be in our minds as well.

Make the content engaging

Engaging content is much more likely to lead to better retention. We’ve all sat through classroom and elearning courses that have left us cold and there’s really no excuse for putting out mediocre training with all the tools we have available. Apart from interactions and fancy graphics, there is a more fundamental way to make content engaging; understand the learner’s motivations. When we understand the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’, we’ll always design, develop and deliver more engaging and effective courses.

Storytelling is a powerful way to bring training to life, whether classroom or elearning. We always try to build stories into our content where possible. Which do you think is more powerful? Being told about the impacts of bad health and safety practices or hearing about the personal consequences for someone who chose to ignore them?  As children we rarely take notice of our parents saying, ‘stop running down the stairs’, until we fall, or perhaps if we’re told a story about another child who fell and ended up in hospital. You get the idea anyway.

The more engaging the content, the more the learner will want to pay attention and as a consequence will learn more. Of course, applying the learning soon after the training is still important.

Summary

When designing training, always remember that the Forgetting Curve will come back to bite you if you haven’t planned any after-training follow ups. Whilst it means your learners giving up more time to attend follow ups, either online or in-person, their knowledge retention will be improved and that will have a positive knock-on effect for the business.

About Lawford Knight

Lawford Knight is a training company with expertise in eLearning, classroom and blended learning. We understand how to design, develop and deliver training programmes that achieve real behavioural change. If you’re ready to work with a company that really understands how training works, please get in contact to discuss your next training requirement.

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