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Five methods for maximising learner retention

17 October 2022
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We learn things all the time, or at least we think we’re learning them. A surprising statistic states that we forget 90-95% of what we learn within a few days.

So is there a magic percentage of retained learning after a training session, webinar, or one-on-one coaching session? The short answer is no. Retention rates vary massively depending on a range of factors and there is no set percentage to work off.

Designing learning experiences is as much an art as it is a science. What we do and don't do in the construction of our training programs has a significant impact on how much learners retain from what they're learning. This article discusses five strategies, coupled with over 15 tactics, that can be applied to boost retention.

 

1 - Storytelling works, sometimes.

While facts and statistics are great, stories are even better. Stories can capture the learner’s attention and relay information in a memorable way. But storytelling doesn’t work for every type of information. Trying to get employees to remember numbers or percentages through stories is likely to fall flat.

Storytelling is best for showing the outcomes of actions – therefore is good for compliance and risk type training. For example, a time when an employee failed to follow an important safety procedure and how it affected the team, or a time when a situation was handled positively and how it affected the team.

 

2 - Avoid cognitive overload

A key issue in eLearning is cognitive load. In short, it refers to how much information we can hold in our working memory at a time. A learner’s cognitive load has been exceeded when they reach the point that information becomes difficult to transfer from working memory to long-term memory.

Many online learners lose their way when the learning materials are designed poorly, presented in various locations, or not aligned with how they prefer to learn. This contributes to cognitive overload and can affect completion rates and comprehension of the learner.

  1. Deliver information in bite-sized chunks such as with a micro learning approach.
  2. Use the right medium. For example, if you’re teaching a learner about a square, don’t try to describe it, just show it!
  3. Avoid splitting information that forces learners to jump back and forth to get the whole picture.
  4. Ensure learners have the right foundational knowledge to understand the course content. Beginners will struggle to remember advanced content, even if you’ve done a good job of explaining it.

 

3 - Check the position of information

If learners aren’t remembering what you want them to remember, it’s probably because they don’t know which pieces of information are important. When you clearly communicate what learners should focus on, and make it stand out, your chances of being remembered increase dramatically.

  1. Draw the learner’s eyes to important points by putting them in bold or making it larger. (Use sparingly, however, as overusing this technique will confuse learners.)
  2. Additional information should support key points, not distract from them (i.e fun facts or did you know pop ups)
  3. Summarise the key points in the conclusion of each chunk of information.

 

4 - Training shouldn’t be all in one sitting

Getting learners to reengage with recently learned content drastically improves learning retention. By asking your learners to revisit information a day after they have learned it, you’ll make the material stick in their minds, so they can remember it longer.

Be encouraged that almost any attempt at spacing is going to positively affect learning retention. That said, here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Aim to deliver your first follow-up within 1-3 days of the original learning session, as the retention drop-off is quickest in the first few days.
  2. Quick quizzes are the most popular method of spacing as it encourages an engaged recall of information. Make sure to include explanations of the correct answers for learners who answered incorrectly.
  3. Ask learners to recall key information, not the “nice-to-know” information, so that the right information is embedded in their memory.

 

5 - Put it into practice

While the idea of learning styles is more myth than magic, what is true is that people greatly benefit from the chance to put their learning into action. “Blended” models of training that combine digital learning with in-person or on-the-job training have stood the test of time. In fact, the 70-20-10 model suggests that as much as 70% of training should be experiential!

However, the most basic and often most overlooked aspect is simply making sure that what is taught in your training is carried out in day-to-day work. Too often, training courses communicate an idealised version of the company while everyone continues to do what they’ve always done. To avoid this clash, ensure that all training has buy-in and follow-through from key leaders in your organisation. Otherwise, any training that isn’t acted upon will be quickly ignored and forgotten.

 

Maximise your learning retention!

It can be easy to get discouraged by the statistics you might hear around learning retention rates, but don’t be! Many are unsupported by research, and don’t reflect the many aspects that influence our ability to remember what we learn.

Instead, there are a huge number of ways to craft your learning experiences to maximise how much knowledge your learners retain. Try choosing one or two for your next project. What will you pick?

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