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Employee Education: How to Avoid the ‘Forgetting Curve’

You’ve spent the day at a leadership conference learning all sorts of great things: how to coach your team, how to build engagement, how to run effective meetings, how to encourage career development, and more. You go back to work the next day with good intentions—but quickly lapse into your old habits.

Within a few weeks, you try to recall what you learned, but even with your notes, you have a hard time. What on Earth happened? If he were still alive, 19th-century psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus would have the answer: You just experienced the “forgetting curve.”

We’ve known for 126 years that the human brain doesn’t retain a lot in terms of memory, and Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve shows just how rapidly new information is lost if we don’t have the opportunity to put it into practice quickly. But just 12 percent of professionals use their newfound skills right away.

This means taking people out of work and putting them through a formal, structured class (where they might even be tested with the accompanying assumption they know what to do if they pass) and then putting them back in the workplace doesn’t actually influence the performance.

Being expected to retain large volumes of information all in one go is like trying to drink from a firehose—sure, you absorb a little bit, but the majority washes over you without sinking in. Fortunately, though, there are employee education tactics to make knowledge “stickier” and avoid the forgetting curve.

1. Give workers access to bite-sized learning.

When it comes to employee education, it’s common to bombard employees with large amounts of information. But most people, especially your high performers, are time-poor and constantly pulled in competing directions.

The way around time constraints is to give workers access to quick information that can be ingested in small bursts. For instance, a self-directed program of 15-minute modules allows employees to tap into knowledge at their point of need. So rather than spending a week learning about agile management, they get a distilled understanding of the principle that they can apply immediately.

Microlearning is also an effective way to improve uptake and engagement. Eighty-five percent of all educational content is either forgotten or rendered useless within six weeks of learning it, which indicates that traditional training might not be the most effective way for people to learn. Pandora is one example of a company that turned to microlearning for its workforce and saw training completion rates go from 15 percent to 90 percent. Busy people who might not be able to commit fully to an all-day event can usually find small nuggets of time to devote to a little education.

2. Encourage managers to follow up after training to help reinforce learning.

Having team members share how they’ve applied what they learned is one of the most effective ways to overcome the forgetting curve and to ensure behavior change (which is usually the goal of employee education). These informal interactions can be brief; think of them more as a huddle than a formal check-in, as discussing what has been learned in conversation can help make knowledge stick.

This is especially important after bringing new employees into the fold. Onboarding typically involves a large volume of information: “Here’s our tech system. Here’s how we do stuff.” Once onboarding is over, employees frequently experience the forgetting curve. Meeting with their team leaders to go over digestible chunks of the material they learned while onboarding helps with retention.

3. Stack new knowledge on top of prior knowledge.

Another way to bypass the effects of the forgetting curve in employee education is to build learning experiences. For example, an employee would need to be able to demonstrate and apply specific behaviors before learning something else. This type of information “stacking” creates a strong foundation and avoids learning loss. Over time, the lower levels of the “stack” become more and more ingrained.

Be careful, though: Not all knowledge “belongs” on top of other knowledge. Learning has to make sense for your employee. Take the idea of a public speaking course for a performer who doesn’t have a speaking engagement planned. The material may seem unnecessary, making it more likely to be forgotten before it can be applied.

To ensure that you’re stacking knowledge efficiently, request feedback from your team members. You can always fix something that’s not working.

4. Create training opportunities that are easily accessible and device-agnostic.

People in need of information don’t always want to read about the topic. Many people are visual or auditory learners. Or they may want to interact kinesthetically with curricula if possible. Be certain that you’re offering training that meets people’s learning needs and preferences.

Similarly, be sure that all employee education content is accessible on any device. Use laptops, tablets, smartphones and desktops for learning purposes. The more user-centric your learning content is, the more it will become a reliable resource.

Calculate which types of devices or learning styles are being used most often by your team. Maybe the majority of employees seem to tune into podcast-style micro-content on their smartphones, in which case you might like to add more audio formats to your learning toolkit.

5. Go for a blended learning approach that still includes formal learning.

Formal learning has a place in corporate training, as long as it’s equally as engaging and effective as other types of education. Intersperse formal learning with other types of employee education, such as microlearning, feedback loops, and self-directed learning.

When designing your learning processes, go for a blended approach with multiple touchpoints. Don’t just have a lecture-style marathon. Instead, add a post-workshop task and follow-up sessions to round out the learning and reinforce the transfer of knowledge.

The forgetting curve may be a proven phenomenon, but there are certainly ways to overcome it! Just put a few measures in place, and you’ll have far less forgetting—and far more employees eager to show off their mettle.

Create a Culture of Cybersecurity: Teach Employees to ‘Catch a Phish’

In 2020, 74 percent of U.S. organizations said they succumbed to a phishing attack. As today’s news cycle fills with ransomware headlines and remote connectivity continues​, it’s increasingly essential for companies to implement action plans for cybersecurity awareness. Phishing can get both people and businesses into all sorts of deep water.

The word “phishing” is commonly used as an umbrella term for a variety of attacks, though the overarching category that phishing falls into is called social engineering. Social engineers prey on human nature with the intent to manipulate a person to take a specific action. Phishing refers to the most common type of social engineering: fraudulent emails sent to many people.

The idea is to cast a wide net with simple bait—fake communication that often impersonates an individual or brand. Phishing works because it taps some of the most basic human traits (curiosity, carelessness, fear of missing out), and scammers know how to use those traits to their advantage. They hook you with an email, text message, phone call, or social media message. Then, they lure you in with a malicious link or attachment and then make the catch–: stolen login credentials or a compromised system.

Many companies attempt to create a culture of cybersecurity and phishing awareness by using scare tactics. These can make employees annoyed at your IT team—or worse, resentful. They may even feel so anxious about phishing that they won’t click on any link or attachment—even important ones. At the end of the day, negative emotions won’t help you build an effective culture of cybersecurity awareness. HR departments should make it their goal to nurture a blame-free, empowering security culture where all employees feel they are contributing to a shared goal.

Create a culture of cybersecurity.

In a well-functioning culture of cybersecurity, employees understand their roles in protecting your company’s data and IT resources. They are active participants in ongoing security conversations. Also, they have the tools they need to maintain good security habits without impeding their work. A blame-free culture doesn’t mean a lack of accountability. Instead of using a punitive model, however, find other ways that motivate employees to follow policies and strong security habits. For example:

  • Don’t instill fear in employees with threats of termination for repeatedly falling for simulated phishing.
  • Do implement a buddy system that appoints a peer to be a team or department’s cybersecurity expert.
  • Don’t require employees to reuse or write down their passwords.
  • Do provide appropriate resources and tools, such as password managers, so employees can use and manage strong passwords.

A recent Dashlane and Harris Poll survey found that 79 percent of employees take at least some personal responsibility for their company’s overall security. Employees want to be part of the solution, and companies need to show them how they can do that.

Implement a cybersecurity education, training, and awareness program.

Phishing trends sound unsettling—but by educating and training your employees, you will empower them with the knowledge to avoid taking the bait. A successful cybersecurity education, training, and awareness program should answer why security matters to your company. It should communicate to employees why they should care about security. Additionally, it should explain how cybercriminals target and attack businesses and what actions employees can take in the course of their day to enhance security.

Conduct simulated phishing campaigns.

To help employees recognize phishing and risky actions through first-hand experiences, use a “show, don’t tell” approach with simulated phishing tests. Phishers may not always have perfect spelling, but they shine at psychology and human behavior. And they’re meticulous researchers. By conducting regular mock phishing campaigns, you can turn employees from a weak link in company security to points of strength.

In addition to serving as practice for employees, the phishing tests measure how many people open the emails, click on the links and attachments, and complete the final action (such as entering their login credentials). You can use these metrics to track the effectiveness of your program over time and identify areas that need additional education and awareness.

Boost phishing defenses with additional tools and processes.

Education and awareness are empowering, but you still need to provide tools and implement strategies that support and promote secure practices. Train employees on how to identify and report suspected security incidents and threats, including phishing attacks. Consider creating a special email or channel for employees to reach out to.

Specifically, businesses must also train employees to recognize phishing attempts and social engineering. In addition, they need to adopt a password manager and multi-factor authentication to improve digital hygiene and security. Cybersecurity is as much about people as it is about technology. Businesses need to educate their entire workforce and provide them with tools they will actually use. Doing so makes their lives easier, both at work and at home. Some quick tips for catching a phish include:

  • Check the subject line of an email for a sense of urgency, scare tactics, or an enticing offer.
  • Ensure the email address matches the sender’s name and/or company.
  • Before clicking, look out for poor spelling and grammar, or unusual/awkward use of language.
  • Don’t be fooled by personalization because scammers can also learn your personal details.
  • Adopt technologies like endpoint security, password managers, and email security.

Many businesses are improving their security technologies and processes to make it harder for phishers to hook their employees. But phishers will continue to find novel, unexpected ways to lure people with social engineering. Your best defense is planning for the unexpected and empowering employees with current knowledge, appropriate tools, and ongoing awareness. Companies can only achieve a culture of cybersecurity if everyone is engaged. Cybersecurity is not something only IT and tech-savvy employees can care about. HR departments need to remember that promoting positive cybersecurity awareness will lead to a culture of security––not scare tactics.

Photo by Milkos

4 Effective Ways to Execute 2021 Employee Training

There is no doubt employee training boosts motivation and reduces turnover. But did you know that training also provides employees greater direction, purpose, and peace of mind?

According to a recent report, 94 percent of employees say they would stay with a company longer if their employer invested in their learning. The report also found that heavy learners are 47 percent more likely to find purpose in their job. They’re more likely to know the direction of their career. And they’re 47 percent less likely to feel stressed at work.

Ongoing employee education should be a top priority for every organization. Unfortunately, the abrupt shift to remote work sparked by the pandemic forced many companies to push training to the back burner. As companies reexamine their 2021 budgets, many HR and training professionals seek smarter ways to invest in and execute employee training in 2021.

Here are four tips for getting the very best training for your employees — even if you have a smaller budget:

1. Ask Managers and Employees to Help Identify Gaps in Knowledge

According to a recent McKinsey memo, CFOs budgeting for 2021 should be looking to unlock more profound value from every investment. That includes employee training. Of course, for some companies, maintaining certifications will require training. In other cases, you may be completely clueless about the gaps in employees’ knowledge.

To ensure you’re investing wisely, talk to department managers and employees about what type of training would be most beneficial. Their knowledge and support will be helpful if you have to make a case for the investment. Plus, employees are likely to get more out of training they’ve already identified as needed.

2. Invest in Private Group Training

The pandemic may have disrupted your training in 2020, but that doesn’t mean 2021 should be a lost year. You can set up private group training either on-site or virtually, depending on current COVID-19 restrictions and your organization’s comfort level. Private group training gives you ultimate flexibility on scheduling, and the instructors come to you.

Private group training is an excellent investment, in part because you can tailor training to your company and employees’ needs. For example, IT training solution provider IBEX offers a customized curriculum to ensure the training aligns with your organization’s goals. They also incorporate your internal processes and terminology into the curriculum. Plus, educating an entire team or department is more cost-effective than training individuals.

3. Set-up Video “Lunch and Learns”

Executing employee training isn’t just about giving your team the technical skills they need to level up. It’s also about igniting their curiosity and creating a culture of growth. Of course, this idea gets a little nebulous when your team is remote. After all, where does that spirit of inquiry live when your employees are working from home?

One way to keep this growth mindset during a lockdown? Coordinate virtual “lunch and learns.” You’ve probably heard of TED Talks, but now you can get customized video recommendations based on your interests with TED Recommends. Pick a new video every week, and then discuss it as a team via Zoom. Not only will this help spark curiosity and innovation, but it will also give your team some much-needed social interaction.

4. Book Virtual Conferences Early

As COVID-19 cases surged, many organizers canceled major 2020 conferences. It’s unclear if big festivals such as South by Southwest will have physical events in 2021, but many are planning online events. While digital experiences don’t bring all the excitement of in-person events, there are certain advantages to booking online conferences.

First, many conferences are making their panels and keynotes available on-demand. This approach allows for greater flexibility and means your team can be sure not to miss the most relevant sessions. Second, these virtual events enable HR and training professionals to score tickets for a fraction of the typical cost. Tickets to SXSW usually cost upwards of $1,700, for example. But early-bird tickets for the virtual event are going for just $149. Plus, your company won’t have to foot the bill for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

Now more than ever, the future is uncertain; no one has any idea how 2021 will look.

The one thing we do know? Ongoing employee education provides enrichment that boosts job satisfaction and morale. Training is also an investment in your human capital that pays dividends for years. So as you look ahead to 2021, pay extra attention to how you will execute employee training for your company.

Photo: Margaret Weir

Training Your Workforce for Data-Driven Decision-Making

The power of business driven by data insights is undeniable. But no matter how clear we are about the importance of being able to base key decisions on a clear framework of data analysis, actually applying this approach is another story for many organizations. From leaders to managers to workforces, what’s needed is a program that encompasses all the knowledge, skills and strategies to enable our people to become data-fluent and data-confident, so they can apply the right data to their decision-making across the board.

Just why some organizations fall short on this is partially a matter of culture: we may embrace the concept of “data” in our work cultures, yet we fail to commit to developing the analytics skills our teams need to harness the data. It may also be a matter of infrastructure: many organizations simply will not have the means to create, manage, and implement a multidimensional training program on their own. And for some, it is the inability to assess our own limitations: we may not even realize where the gaps are in terms of competencies — or even the technology needed to carry them out. On all these fronts, however, there is no reason to go it alone.

To effectively empower our workforces, it’s a best practice to establish a partnership — one that provides the vision, structure, tools, and collaborative energy to turn our people into data-driven decision makers. If we’re going to transform our work culture to be competitive going forward, that’s what we need to instill data-driven decision making as a core competency. And we need to be able to capture the imaginations and drive the engagement of a diverse and multi-generational workforce — who may want their learning delivered in a whole range of ways, across different channels, and at different speeds. 

Recently I sat down with Donna Trice, Sr. Mgr., Education and Training Division, and Katie Whitley, Education Account Executive, of SAS for a roundtable about just this challenge. We discussed how SAS works with organizations to shape effective, ongoing  partnerships, embarking on a collaborative journey around data literacy and analytics training that carries through from planning to adoption to refinements. It’s a dynamic that thrives when all parties are actively involved. What SAS brings to the table is a level of expertise, perspective and also flexibility that most organizations don’t have, and likely need, to equip and train our workforces to become data-driven decision makers. 

What follows are highlights from our conversation:

Assessing Needs

Meghan M. Biro: Something I see in terms of technology now is that it’s not about simply selling and buying. There’s no “one and done” with software and tools that are this powerful and this sophisticated. Learning the technology is also a huge part of being a modern company. True learning partners can’t position something and then walk away. They have to create an ongoing partnership and be responsive to a company’s evolving needs. 

Can you talk about how you assess the individual needs of each company — and what some of the distinguishing factors are? You may be working with a company that wants to be in front of the most cutting-edge skills, and another company that is a bit more traditional. So how do you determine the best route for skills training for each of these workforces? And what are the various methods for coaching and learning that work for one work culture versus another? How do the approaches differ, and what tools do you use, such as learning portals?

Donna Trice, SAS: We start by having conversations, qualifying and understanding their learning goals. We work with our clients to look at their skills today and where they want to go. Together, we create a training plan that works for them and their employees.  This may include a learning needs assessment, some may prefer public classes; others may want us onsite; others prefer e-learning. We can bend and flex to cater to customer needs.

It’s all about meeting the customer where they are. So, for companies that aren’t as ready to take a large leap, those that prefer a more traditional approach to learning, they may schedule multiple onsite training sessions up front on multiple topics versus a company that comes to us and says “I want to build out a data science team.”  For that company, we may lay out a six-month plan with different training modalities complete with a custom learning portal and reporting to track progress and outcome metrics. 

Creating the Foundation for Skills Development 

Meghan M. Biro: I’m going somewhat high level here, but do you think part of the gap regarding training and skills has to do with how we envision skills development? We hear a lot about the training that employees themselves need. But it seems like companies also need to take a clear look at the big picture. 

In other words, how can we better equip our leaders and managers and learning teams to make the right decisions for their workforce, and develop that 20/20 vision? What’s the right approach for working with leaders to develop a real base of knowledge — so they can set a course for learning and development that fully utilizes the capabilities of their own technologies?

Katie Whitley, SAS: This is such an interesting question — and there are many sides to the answer. We need to look at skills development with our customers two ways: macro and micro. And we need to give customers the confidence that we can help tackle both.

The macro is important so organizations can see the big picture of skills development — how it will affect and benefit the entire workforce. It’s not just getting their people trained. It’s understanding their jobs, the skill set needed to be successful and exceed beyond that, and their current ability to meet those expectations. In other words, where are they now and where do they need to be to meet their business objectives? It’s also important to understand how making these advances forward will not only benefit one group but create efficiencies company-wide.

But not everyone will need the same plan to succeed. Once you have the big picture of how skills development will benefit your organization at the macro level, you need to look at the individuals and get a true understanding of the current skill levels and not only understand their gaps, but their ability to learn, and the format in which they learn best. Creating role-based plans specific to an individual’s learning needs will ensure the employees are getting a tailored, prescriptive plan — where success can be tracked and measured.  

And, the most critical piece to success is ensuring knowledge and skills are building up. Because, let’s face it, there are lots of e-learning platforms out there. SAS pays critical attention to this part, and issues completion badges and globally recognized certifications to validate skills gain. We’ll even step in with mentoring and coaching if it’s needed to advance knowledge gain. 

Mentoring hours and certifications are a great way to achieve this. When you combine this with role-based plans that look different for a business analyst versus a data scientist, administrator or model manager, that’s where you get success. As a business, you have to prioritize these plans according to your goals and find the right learning partner to get you there.

The Future of Work

Meghan M. Biro: Looking forward, we want to make sure our workforce masters in-demand software and tools. I know certain careers are starting to really pick up, like data science, where jobs are growing by 29% this year. Given the job starts at around six figures, I’m not surprised it was LinkedIn’s most promising job for 2019. But skills in data science require a lot of very specific learning — and we see a lot of gaps in our current workforce. 

What will it take to better train our workforce — and ensure the next generation is ready to work with AI and machine learning? I’m also thinking of education: How does learning cross over from the workforce into the academic arena?  

Donna Trice, SAS: SAS’ approach to building the next generation of data scientists, programmers, and AI and machine learning experts is rooted in building collaborative relationships between businesses and academic institutions to ensure there is an analytics talent pipeline that businesses so desperately need. 

This can take the form of free training and enablement, such as course materials and workshops, to help faculty build their curriculum, along with low and no cost SAS software options. We also work with academic researchers, providing them with access to powerful SAS Analytics so they can extract deeper meaning and insights from large amounts of disparate data.

All of that said, in order to truly fill the analytics skills gap, there has to be a partnership between analytics companies like SAS, universities, and industry. SAS is finding creative ways to be there to support universities who want to give their students a competitive edge in the labor market, while also helping commercial customers find and hire the early-career talent they need. The key is building collaborative relationships between SAS’ industry and academic partners — to ensure alignment between the analytics skills that faculty teach, and that students learn, and what industry needs to grow and succeed.

This post is sponsored by SAS.