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Rethinking Traditional Training: The Forgetful Curve

By David Epstein

Picture this scenario – you are sitting at a computer in the breakroom, preparing to take your annual trainings. The acrid smell of slightly over-cooked microwave popcorn permeates the room (butter flavored, if you were wondering), and you hear a page for a department that is thankfully not yours. You click “begin” and the pixelated, tinny sounding video from the 80s pops up telling you all about sexual harassment. Your eyes glaze over immediately as you disengage: if they’re going to make you watch this outdated content, your attention can’t be that necessary anyway.

Even in a more ideal scenario, research tells us that within 1 hour of receiving training, the average person will forget 50% of what they learned! Within 24 hours, 70%; and within one week, 90%. In education circles this is called the Forgetting Curve. With better engagement levels, more knowledge can be retained, but the numbers are still stark. Employees will forget most of what they learn, despite corporate training being a $60 billion industry.

Why does the Forgetting Curve exist? At any given moment, your brain is receiving thousands of bits of information. Smells, sounds, sights, feelings, aches, pains, nerve impulses, and much more is flooding our brain. The brain simply makes a note and ignores unless we bring our mental focus and attention onto it. The training your employee is listening to is one of those bits of information flooding their brain with all the other messages. Experience the phenomena yourself with this test, seen by almost 25 million people as of this writing.

So, is training a lost cause? How do we make our content stand out amongst all the other impulses, so we can flatten the Forgetting Curve? The first step is avoiding distractions – reducing the information going to the brain that is distracting it from your training is the first step. The second is engagement, when an employee is actively engaged with training they will retain more. The third key to the puzzle is focus.  Neuroscience studies show that when an individual is intensely visually focused on something, it greatly reduces all outside stimuli from distracting the brain.

This tells us we need training that is both mentally engaging and visually engaging enough to help the employee to focus, and that it should be done in an environment free from distractions. In the modern workplace it can be difficult to achieve all of these, as training is often third-party purchased. Consider a training provider, such as in2vate, which utilizes all of these concepts for engaging training modules. Also consider projects and tasks that force the employees to utilize what they have learned, which will draw their attention and engagement in toward the learning being presented. It can even help to explicitly state the connections between the learning and the task being given.

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