Often, training activities are organized as if we could learn something once and have it stored in our brains forever. However, it won’t come as a surprise to you that this is wishful thinking. We all know the frustrating feeling when we want to learn a new topic, have participated in a training but can’t recall the knowledge when we need it.
In the late 19th century, the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered, by testing his own memory over time, the exponential decline of memory. This means that even if in the moment of learning the memory retention is 100 percent, after only a few days it drops to 40 percent. What does that tell us for learning in organizational transformations?
Can we outsmart our forgetfulness?
Luckily, Ebbinghaus also discovered various factors that influence how well we retain information or things we have learned and ways to counteract the undesired memory loss.
Some of the most crucial factors are the time that has passed since the learned content was delivered and the intensity of the learning memory which is, among other things, determined by the meaningfulness of the content and how it is presented.
As we want to combat the forgetting curve, it is wise to plan trainings closest to the place of action and to reinforce them regularly. It is also helpful when a training is offered in small learning nuggets or the memory is tested on several occasions as it allows us to build our knowledge, step by step. Instead of being overwhelmed, we have the chance to let the information build on something we already know, providing contextual guidance.
To create a strong memory, we need to make sure the content is relevant to the learner and that the learner can interact with the trainer and/or other learners. However, even better would be to directly apply new information to solidify it and intensify the learning experience. Applying what’s learned to real-world situations strengthens one’s focus and determination to learn.
How do these discoveries factor into training programs for large scale transformations?
It is surprising to see that many companies still organize trainings as one-time activities – way ahead of the planned go-live of new processes and systems. Often, training effectiveness is not measured in a structured way, but it can clearly be observed that most of the training content is forgotten when it is required. New knowledge is not transferred into abilities required for e.g., the handling of new processes and systems.
To design effective and sustainable learning journeys, training managers need to consider the following three key pillars:
- Define the appropriate training mix.
- Define the right timing.
- Establish a training closed loop.
Define the appropriate training mix
Brain preferences are different. And not every format is suitable for every type of training content. Make sure to choose the right type of training with regard to the topic, targeted learner and company learning culture. To serve the variety of learner needs, the optimal learning experience is built when companies strive for a well-rounded portfolio of training formats a learner can choose from. The biggest focus should be on formats supporting experimenting and social learning. Formal trainings should only count for roughly 10 to 20 percent.
While a formal delivery approach like classroom instructor-led training allows for direct interaction for questions and is particularly useful for highly complex topics, it remains the most rigid form of learning. As stand-alone delivery approach, it does not suffice to constitute knowledge in a dynamic work environment.
In contrast to this, social learning is an informal learning approach that comes about through learners’ relationships, the sharing of knowledge and experiences or observing others. It is spontaneous and less structured than more traditional training formats. Learning through social interactions can be driven by coaching or mentoring formats, and by promoting group discussions and activities that increase points of contact.
Similarly, experimenting offers a framework for improved knowledge retention. Learners are actively engaged in the learning process and want to take charge of their own development. Concepts, facts, and information are directly applied, and learners can see the results of the activities. This increased accountability has a positive effect on the longevity of memories, which is why this format should be at the core of the training mix just like social learning.
Define the right timing
With self-paced learning one can acquire knowledge in one’s own time and schedule. Compared to formal live training this removes the pressure to complete assignments in a certain time frame, there are fewer distractions, and one doesn’t “loose face” when not understanding something right away. However, the biggest advantage is that the training content can be consumed in “the moment of need”. Self-paced learning is supported by online content, explanation videos, or simulations.
When planning for live training sessions, it must be considered to schedule these trainings very closely to the moment when the training content should be applied (e.g., a system go-live).
Another method, mainly applied for system trainings, is providing context-sensitive help when required. For this purpose, there is a wide range of Digital Adoption Platforms (formally called Electronic Performance Support System) available in the market. Digital adoption platforms seek to support learners in the productive environment and offer guidance in the flow of work. The idea is to let learners jump into new waters and provide them with the information they’re looking for in the exact moment of need; simply trying to walk while being nudged in the right direction.
Establish a training closed loop
Training effectiveness can be measured in many ways, focusing on the training experience and desired outcomes. Only when combining different data like e.g., number of system support tickets, process KPI, process mining data, clicks in Digital Adoption Platforms, and self-assessment results, we can derive the effectiveness of the training. Key for success is establishing a closed loop, which means to adjust training strategy and contents according to the outcome of the effectiveness data. In that way, training effectiveness can be continuously improved.