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Learning retention: how to effectively improve it in an online environment

Learning retention: why does it matter?

What’s the main purpose of any training program? Why do companies invest time, energy and resources in delivering learning programs? The answer is learning retention. If learners don’t retain information long enough to turn it into skills, then the time, energy and resources are wasted. Thus, knowing what learning retention is and how it can be fostered among a company, should be a priority for any learning and development department, and for every organization. 

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Learning retention

However, you should know that people tend to forget information, at least partially, and you shouldn’t expect them to retain 100% of what they learn. According to a study, people forget 75% of the information after only 6 days. Don’t try to jump from 25% retention to 100%, but always do your best to raise this percentage. With every study you read, with every training you organise, with every learning process you design, you find out more about how people retain information and how you can maximise it. 

Tips & tricks to improve learning retention

Starting with the definition, “retention of learned information can be defined as having the information stored in long-term memory in such a way that it can be readily retrieved”. (source) Another important concept to be introduced when talking about this is the learning retention pyramid, which was established by the National Training Laboratory to initiate the idea that various learning methods can deliver different results. Thus, you should be aware of this and of the employees’ learning styles before coming up with a training plan. Let’s go through some methods that we find valuable when it comes to delivering information that is actually turned into knowledge and eventually into skills. 

Interactivity, interactivity & interactivity

According to the previously mentioned learning pyramid, “active learning, in which students are deeply engaged in the process and interact with the material in various ways, is most effective for retention” (source). Thus, this is how you should start, by making interactivity a component of every training program you deliver. But don’t worry, most eLearning platforms are equipped with tools that foster this kind of learning, either through the way information is delivered or through communication with other learners, by means of communities of practice, for example. 

Test knowledge

To improve learning retention, you should make sure that learners understand the information enough to turn it into practice. You can test this through interactive quizzes, which verify information, while keeping students engaged and motivated. You can also use real-life scenarios, where learners have the opportunity to apply knowledge in a safe environment, similar to their day to day professional tasks. Also, “real-life scenarios empower your employees to learn from mistakes—and they are one of the best teachers, right?” (source). Basically, this benefits both learners and the organization, because employees can practice in a risk-free environment, while the organization doesn't have to worry about costly mistakes. 

Learn by teaching others

When you teach others, you engage with learning materials at a deeper level. Also, when you are the trainer and other people ask you different questions, you get to understand the topic better, which is a great way to improve learning retention among employees. From our experience as learning advocates, internal training comes with lots of advantages, as each employee has valuable expertise, worth sharing with new hires and with other people in a different department. 

Some (final) thoughts

Learning retention is one of the most important components of the training process and you should always have it in mind when organizing your training programs for the organization. Make sure that interactivity is used, information understood, and knowledge applied.

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