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.

How to Hire & Develop Better with Assessments

With thousands of assessments available from hundreds of publishers, it can be a daunting task to choose the ones that yield the best results for your organization.  Maybe you have made the decision to use pre-employment testing as a part of your hiring practices, or to use assessments to develop your employees (woohoo!).  But now, how do you decide which type of assessment to use?  On your quest to select and develop better talent, understanding different types of assessments can offer insights into which are best suited for specific job roles, levels, and overall business needs and goals.

At PAN, we tend to think that there are nine popular assessment types for selection and development: Cognitive Ability, Skills and Knowledge, Personality, Integrity, Values, Biodata, 360-degree Feedback, Structured Interviews, and Situational Judgment. Let us dive into the foundation of each type:

  • Cognitive Ability
    • Cognitive Ability tests are some of the strongest predictors of job performance. Usually they assess critical thinking abilities, such as verbal and mathematical ability.
  • Skills and Knowledge
    • Skills and Knowledge assessments are also strong predictors of job performance, and they are inherently job-related. These tests essentially measure how much job-relevant knowledge the test taker has at the time of test completion.
  • Personality
    • Personality assessments are extremely popular and are useful in assessing an individual’s motivations, preferences, interests, emotional make-up, and style of interacting with people and situations. These assessments can be either general or job-specific.
  • Integrity
    • Integrity tests assess character such that employers can screen out test takers with “red flag” characteristics (safety infractions, dishonesty, absenteeism, etc.) who may be a liability to the company.
  • Values
    • Values assessments attempt to match individuals to organizations with which they will fit well, based on personality, interests, and organizational culture preference.
  • Biodata
    • Biodata assessments inquire about past events that are telling of an individual’s personality, attitudes, experiences, interests, skills, and abilities. Overall, they rely on the assumption that certain aspects of someone’s past may be some of the best predictors of someone’s future job performance.
  • 360-degree Feedback
    • 360-degree feedback instruments rely on evaluations of an employee from two or more sources, giving a more complete view of the employee’s abilities and predicted performance. 360-degree feedback instruments are designed explicitly for developmental purposes only.
  • Structured Interviews
    • Structured Interviews employ standardized questions to ensure equal opportunity for all candidates, and reduce the possibility of bias that can often creep in during unstructured interviews. Items often include behavioral interview questions which assess a candidate’s communication skills and job-related competencies in real-life situations.
  • Situational Judgment
    • Situational Judgment tests (SJTs) present test takers with a hypothetical (but realistic) workplace scenario and several plausible actions in response to the scenario. Respondents are then prompted to either indicate which actions they would most likely endorse, or to rate the effectiveness of each action.

For more information on assessment types, plan on  How To Hire & Develop Better With Assessment Tools, Kelsey Stephen’s upcoming webinar on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 from 2PM – 3PM EDT.

Attendees of this free webinar will walk away knowing the following details about each assessment type:

  • A clear definition
  • The pros and cons
  • The best use cases

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