Learning Decay: A Challenge for Training in the Workplace

According to a Bridge study about knowledge retention from training, 70% of employee respondents admitted to forgetting something they had been taught during a training within 24 hours of learning it.1 And because so many organizations invest so much time and money developing their training programs, this number is quite alarming.

trainingIs there a way to ensure employees don’t forget most, if not all, of the things they’ve learned?

Learning Decay Theory

“Decay Theory” was coined by Edward Thorndike in his book The Psychology of Learning over 100 years ago in 1914. The theory posits that if someone does not access or use a memory he or she has learned, it will fade or slowly decay over time. And what we’re seeing in learning environments inside the workplace today can certainly attest to this—basically reaffirming that if someone doesn’t use it (the knowledge he or she has learned) fast enough or effectively enough, he or she will lose it or forget it.

What Causes Learning Decay

While there can be numerous reasons why people forget what they’ve learned at work, the main reason they forget something they’ve learned is because they either don’t apply what they’ve learned right away or because the knowledge isn’t an immediate priority to them in their everyday tasks and responsibilities. It’s easy to get distracted by everyday responsibilities and routines. So, if you aren’t actively implementing and ruminating on new knowledge you’ve learned, it’s easy to forget it.

How to Prevent Learning Decay

Here are several tips for preventing learning decay:

Make Learning Relevant

One of the most effective ways to ensure your learners remember the things you’re teaching them is to make them relevant to their job roles, tasks, and career trajectories. Every piece of learning content they encounter should be linked back to things they care about and things that will either make their jobs easier or help them attain the career goals they want to achieve.

Provide Hands-On Opportunities

If you want your learners to remember something, have them implement the skills or knowledge you shared with them right away. For instance, if you show employees how to use a machine, have them use it right after you show them how to use it.

Offer Consistent and Immediate Feedback

As soon as your learners complete a task you taught them how to do, offer them immediate feedback on their performance so they can improve if needed. Otherwise, they may adopt the wrong knowledge or skills or forget them. There’s a reason why the saying “practice makes perfect” is so well-known. To really learn how to do something, learners must do whatever it is they’re learning over and over again until they become proficient.

Implement Micro-Learning

To avoid learning decay, divide larger modules with multiple learning objectives into smaller bits. This way, your learners won’t ever be overwhelmed or bombarded by information and can focus on mastering one task or skill at a time.

As you develop your training materials and programs, remember what learning decay is, why it occurs, and how you can prevent it so that all your hard work isn’t in vain.

  1. How to Help Employees Remember What They Learned in Training. Accessed 3/9/2018.