How to Use Science to Improve Employee Training

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U.S. businesses spend over $160 billion annually on employee learning and training, but are we really achieving the results we are trying to attain? Although there may be several different goals that training is used to reach, there is one necessary part of employee training that has to happen in order to see changes made and goals reached. Employees have to remember what they’ve learned.

The Forgetting Curve, first developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, shows us that 70% of what a person learns is forgotten within 24 hours, and 90% is gone 30 days later.

Those are the statistics for traditional training, which doesn’t include several methods for increasing learning retention and overcoming the forgetting curve. So rather than throwing away time and money on programs that are not effective for creating behavior change and providing ROI, how about moving toward methods that have science on their side?

Based on research findings in neuroscience, there are 6 methods to incorporate into training to improve learning retention with your employees. Implementing these will cause a dramatic shift in your training program results and help you engage modern learners.

1. Chunk It

Cognitive load theory states that our brains have a mental “bandwidth,” and giving too much information means that the majority of it won’t be absorbed at all. Lowering cognitive load through short, bite-sized content is an effective way to allow a learner to take in more of what they’re learning.

This type of training delivery, known as microlearning, is becoming more and more popular because it works with the brain, rather than against it.

2. Space It Out

Cramming for a test can work for the short-term, but how much of that information do you remember the next week? Committing what you’ve learned to long-term memory requires spaced repetition. Giving the brain opportunities to retrieve information over a longer period of time reminds it that this is something important to remember. This is the “use it or lose it” effect.

If a training program doesn’t allow learners the opportunity to recall what they’ve learned days and weeks after the training, their brains will decide that information isn’t worth keeping.

3. Testing

Tests seem like their best function is to find out what someone has learned. Isn’t that the very definition of a test? While it is useful for evaluation, testing is also highly effective for improving the learning itself. Devoting time during learning to retrieving the to-be-remembered information is a much more effective method than spending time repeating it over and over again. Incorporating tests and quizzes throughout training will engage the long-term memory and improve retention.

4. Mix It Up

Do you focus on one topic at a time until it is mastered? This “blocking” method is a common way to train, but science shows that combining training of multiple related skills actually brings about mastery faster than focusing on one particular skill. This method is called “interleaving” and it has been proven to work in areas like math, sports, and music, with more and more research coming out proving its effectiveness.

Interleaving challenges learners to “practice like we play the game.” In other words, it mirrors the application of learning in real life – how we use different skills throughout the day, often without planning on it.

5. Make It Hard

You’ve probably heard quotes about how nothing worth achieving is ever easy. Cognitive science would agree when it comes to effective learning. If the brain doesn’t need to work hard to retrieve information, it won’t figure out how the information is useful and applicable.

One way to make learning more difficult is to test someone on information they haven’t learned yet. Pre-testing primes the brain and helps it to remember. Other methods are increasing the amount of time between retrieval opportunities (which allows more forgetting to occur), and using fill in the blank or short-answer questions rather than multiple choice.

6. Writing to Remember

Note-taking can be helpful for looking back to find information you’ve forgotten, but it also helps your brain organize information and remember more, regardless of if you ever look at it again. Writing things down doesn’t necessarily help you remember more, but your brain will recognize more of what’s important through writing it out.

Where do I start?

The two biggest factors here are the combination of #1 and #2, microlearning and training reinforcement. There is tons of technology out there to help you implement these methods into your training program, including BizLibrary’s BoosterLearn platform.

Read More: Top 7 Business Challenges That You Should Tackle with Microlearning


Training & Development Industry Researcher | Krista researches, analyzes, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. She looks at the industry shifts and trends that matter to L&D and HR professionals, and helps them understand how to create better training programs that grow their employees and their business.