5 Strategies to improve learning retention on your team
- Do you find yourself having to repeat information to new employees?
- Are you getting complaints from mentors that individuals are not learning as fast as you think they should?
- Do you ever doubt the effectiveness of your learning programmes because the benefits are not immediately evident?
As an educator, you’re constantly reminded that learning takes time, and education requires a certain level of patience.
With the rising popularity of workplace learning, the responsibility to teach and mentor has in many ways now shifted from the educator to the workplace and with that the need to be patient and constantly reinforce learning.
But why does learning take this much time? And what is a reasonable expectation from employees to learn and master new skills? Can they be expected to receive information only once and be able to apply it correctly? And if not, what can be done to speed up the process of learning?
Before we dive into the strategies to improve learning retention on your team, let’s first consider what impacts our ability to retain information. And to put this in a way we can all understand, let’s start with a simple question:
‘What did you have for dinner, 7 days ago?’
Can you remember right away or did it take some time to figure out?
In this post, we are going to look at the following factors to better understand how to improve learning retention:
What impacts our ability to retain information?
According to Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve, retention declines with time when there is no attempt to retain it.
When the information is first received, it may be easily recalled, but with each passing day, the ability to recall the information, correctly and in detail, declines.
In addition to the normal decline of retention, an individual’s memory strength and learning capacity also impacts their ability to learn and retain information.
There are four key cognitive skills that work together with language skills to create learning capacity.
The ability to focus on information and tasks and ignore distractions
The speed at which a student is able to accurately process incoming information
The ability to retain and recall information which is essential for word recognition and importantly for remembering instructions
Placing the detail of the information in its usual or usable order
Considering the cognitive strain individuals face when starting a new position, or entering a new field, it is no surprise that learning takes time, having to combat the forgetting curve as well as manage their capacity to learn and adapt to new surroundings.
Effective learning is as much about the learning methodology as it is about the environment in which learning takes place, and thankfully there are several ways to help individuals learn and retain information.
How do we improve our retention of learning?
To improve our retention of learning, according to Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve, information needs to be repeated, often.
In this illustration, information is repeated daily, and with each repeat, the retention of that information improves until eventually almost 100% of the information can be retained.
However, in reality, we understand that sitting through the same lecture, teaching or repeating the same demonstration each day, is not conducive to effective learning. Individuals are more likely to lose concentration and interest out of pure boredom. The time and cost associated with this strategy would also be questionable.
To ensure effective learning takes place and is retained, a learning retention strategy is needed.
What is a learning retention strategy?
A learning retention strategy is simply taking mindful steps to ensure the retention of learning. Rather than providing all the information at the same time, and leaving the individual to their own devices, a learning retention strategy enables employers to provide targeted learning in manageable chunks with continual yet subtle reinforcement, increasing its effectiveness and the learners’ ability to retain the information learned.
When creating your own learning retention strategy, try one or a combination of these methods, for optimal retention.
1. Present information in manageable chunks
According to most studies, the average adult has a maximum attention span of around 20 minutes. (Mautref, n.d.)
Once concentration is lost, the overall impact of learning declines. Of course, individuals can re-engage and re-focus their attention on the same activity, but without time to absorb, apply and review the information, it is likely that most of the information, following the initial 20 minutes of learning, will be lost.
In this instance, it’s more effective to work with human nature and use the 20 minutes of guaranteed concentration time to your advantage. In other words, make sure that learning sessions are short and to the point. Instead of having one full day session, spread it out over a few days, to ensure mastery of one concept before diving into the next.
2. Encourage and empower social learning
Theory is often difficult to comprehend and even more so to apply. Observing experienced team members applying the theory learned, is not only a form of repetition, combatting our forgetting curve, but it is also a very effective way to transfer experience and help individuals apply theory in a specific context.
Once a course or lecture is completed, create space for the individual to observe the theory in action.
3. Exercise repetition
Understanding the forgetting curve, take steps to incorporate ways to solidify learning through repetition. A pop quiz or brief recap can go a long way to help individuals recall information.
4. Create an active learning environment
Benjamin Franklin once said: ‘Tell me, and I will listen; Teach me, and I’ll remember; Involve me, and I will learn.’
Involving individuals promotes learning and cultivates trust.
Here are a few ways to encourage a learning culture:
- Instead of providing all the information on a new topic, ask your team to do some research and present their findings.
- Purposefully present an ineffective idea and challenge your team to come up with a better solution.
- Delegate topics and tasks to experienced team members and encourage them to find innovative ways to present the information.
- Use games and icebreakers to solidify key concepts and make learning memorable.
5. Inspire a lifestyle of learning
We mentioned earlier that the learning methodology, as much as the environment, impacts learning and the retention of information.
One thing above all else that discourages learning, is the fear or feeling of failure.
The fear or feeling of failing is often fuelled by unreasonable expectations, where tasks seem impossibly difficult or lengthy, the timelines for completion are unrealistic, the learning does not consider learning disabilities or the level of learning is beyond the grasp of the learner.
To encourage a lifestyle of learning, individuals need to feel encouraged, empowered and supported and most importantly they need to feel that they can succeed.
- Be sure to set reasonable expectations, taking into consideration the individual’s abilities and constraints and adjust these where necessary to ensure it remains achievable.
- Encourage and celebrate progress.
- Avoid comparisons in terms of achievement but encourage healthy competition within the team by completing similar topics.
- Ignite curiosity by providing sneak peeks and fun facts.
Which learning experiences are the most effective way to retain information?
Once you have employed an effective learning retention strategy within your team or organisation, it’s important to reconsider your learning methodologies. A learning strategy will be ineffective, or rather difficult, if the learning provided is ineffective.
Learning has evolved considerably over time, but there are still a few tried and tested methodologies that ensure learning is impactful.
Here are a few things to look out for:
1. Learning should incorporate storytelling
People learn better when they have both a logical and emotional connection to what is being taught. Learning content should include scenarios and examples to help make the content relatable.
2. Learning should be engaging
Engaging content is defined as content that is valuable enough to attract and hold your attention.
This could include:
- Fresh and current topics
- Interesting and fun facts
- Imagery, charts and graphs
- Videos and demonstrations
- Scenarios, brain teasers and challenges
Content incorporating virtual and augmented reality is also on the rise and will undoubtedly enhance the learning experience.
An important aspect here is that learning should still follow a logical and practical pattern with clear outcomes. Engaging content that does not deliver on the expected outcome is of little use. Learners should learn what is expected, and through engagement enjoy the journey.
3. Learning material should cater for all learning styles
There are four core learning styles, known as the VARK model. Learning styles include visual, auditory, reading and writing and kinesthetics.
Learning courses should cater for each learning style to ensure information is not lost. This means learning courses should include:
- Visuals and illustrations
- Notes or transcripts of what was said
- Videos, animations, practical examples, or scenarios
This is also a very important aspect to remember when creating a learning strategy.
As Albert Einstein famously said: ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’
Be sure that your learning content does not discriminate against certain learning styles.
4. Learning should be tested and reinforced
Finally, learning should be tested. Quizzes and assignments do not only provide proof that learning took place, but they are also essential tools for repetition, thereby improving retention.
Assessments should be relevant and fair and test the information taught. Where answers can be provided once the assessment is complete, it provides yet another iteration of learning.
Learning can and should be fun and empowering, though it takes time, it is well worth the wait. It is an excellent tool to create strong company cultures and enhance service delivery.
Incorporating effective learning methodologies as well as learning retention strategies can help increase the impact of learning and the related benefits to your organisation.