Learning & Development

16 Guaranteed Ways to Improve Learner Retention

Summary: As great as your training materials or learning tracks are, they mean nothing if learners can't retain information. Improving learner retention is a full-proof way to reduce the cost of training employees and improve the ROI of training initiatives as you'll only have to train them once, rather than hope they remember what they were taught.

Do you need to improve learner retention in training for your employees? Research on the forgetting curve shows that:

  • Within one hour, people will have forgotten an average of 50% of the information learned
  • Within 24 hours, they have forgotten an average of 70% of new information
  • Within a week, forgetting is on average 90% of what was learned

So, how do you improve learner retention in training? Here are 16 guaranteed tips to help learners retain information during and after training:

1. Make training material relatable

In order for employee buy-in, they need to see how the training material will benefit their lives directly. So, make training materials relatable.

The brain retains what it deems useful so explain why employees are taking assigned modules and why they will benefit on the job after they complete these.

Also, use stories or case studies. If an employee can walk through the process of a new product rollout, for example, they can better visualize actually using that product.

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2. Use peer-to-peer learning

Simply put peer-to-peer learning is employees learning from each other.

Whether you have an instructor in a classroom setting or an online tutorial you are taking, employees may feel disconnected from who is teaching the material. But on the other hand, if a coworker is giving an employee a lesson on a new skill, for example, they are more willing to listen and more importantly retain the material. 

3. Break training up into smaller chunks

Whether you have a complex topic or a longer tutorial, everyone has only so much attention span. Eventually, even the most patient employees will either zone out or start thinking about something besides what’s being taught.

Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation. So, a great way to improve learner retention in training is by breaking up the topics into bite-sized pieces.

Bite-sized learning offers several benefits. For one it takes less time. New compliance training for example could be broken into five 20 minutes sessions. An employee could easily fit 20 minutes of training into a busy day and better retain a smaller amount of information. Also, it’s more mobile-friendly for employees who are remote or are traveling for work.

4. Make training fun

Often training is viewed as a formality by employees. Just like a kid listening to a lecture in a classroom, they can even view it as just plain boring. So, make training fun.

There are several methods to make learning interesting even at the employee level. One of these ways is gamification in training.

And there’s really no need to reinvent your training sessions. Simply look for places in training modules you want employees to solve challenges and change behaviors. Then add gaming elements at these points in the training process. It can take any topic and make it instantly more exciting.

5. Use repetition in training

The more an employee hears something the more they are going to remember it. So key topics or skills needed to be memorized should be restated throughout your learning modules.

Whether it’s a complex topic where previously training modules overlap each other repeating key points throughout the process or acronyms are built in to learn valuable information, repetition can improve learner retention. 

6. Incorporate microlearning

Microlearning is another great way to drive key points into memory. Basically, it involves creating short learning sessions around three to five minutes long with the goal to drive a specific learning outcome.

Microlearning can be used both in training programs and also more informally like improving employee performance. However, you choose to apply it in training, it’s beneficial since it involves short bursts of an employee’s attention span. 

7. Practice collaborative learning

As we mentioned previously, employees learn from one another and it also helps improve learning retention in training. So, start creating a collaborative learning environment. This type of in-person training is best for multi-faceted topics or more free-flowing subjects. It’s a chance to take a topic learned and gather different viewpoints from peers. 

For example, say you hold an employee retreat with keynote speakers from the company. You could then take your employees, divide them into smaller groups and have them discuss what they heard during the lectures. You could use a whiteboard to write what everyone took away from the talks, how they plan to use it within their daily tasks, and why each person thinks the information was valuable. This collaboration offers different viewpoints and gives a singular topic more depth. 

8. Personalize training for employees

You can make your employees take the necessary training courses, but if they don’t see a personal connection with their daily tasks, they won’t put what’s learned into action.

To counteract this, make training personal. Using techniques like voiceovers, personal aviators, and actual company images within your learning modules, it humanizes the process. Employees are more willing to absorb what’s being taught if they perceive a human connection.

9. Build-in assessments

In order to improve learner retention in training, you’ll need to assess how training is going overall. One way to do this is by incorporating assessments into your program.

These are short quizzes that act as recaps for your employees. So, for example, you have a topic that is broken out into three subsections. After each subsection, employees would be asked four multiple-choice questions pertaining to what was learned within a previous training module.

Not only do assessments instantly give employees feedback on how well they are learning a topic, but it also helps administrators’ efforts. Using analytics, you can see how well employees are doing in each training session. If overall scores are low for a particular section, tweaks may need to be made to strengthen parts of the program. 

10. Create visually-appealing content

Developing learning content is just one part of the process. The other key component is training design.

You want to vary the types of design elements you use from visuals to graphs to incorporating color. The bottom line is what can you use to catch and keep the attention of the learner throughout the training process?

The more elements you can use even within a single training session the better. No one wants to listen to or watch a straight lecture for an hour. Breaking it up with interesting elements helps the monotony and aids to improve learner retention in training.

11. Go for a blended learning style

Some subjects are best learned in person while others are better learned online. The use of blended learning is simply a balance between in-person learning and virtual learning.

By using a mixture of both in-person and online learning, you break up the way your employees learn. Plus, it provides the best platform for each new subject learned and creates a more dynamic experience for employees.

You can also cross-train the same subject in person and online. While this may seem repetitive, it gives employees a chance to revisit the same subject matter in a different way. 

12. Explain the reason for training

Oftentimes employees get that notice in their inbox that they have training assigned. They read the message and wait until the last possible moment to take the training.

It’s an afterthought. Why? They simply don’t see the importance of training.

So, it’s important to explain why training was assigned to them. If they understand the value and how it will benefit them in particular, the buy-in will be greater. And when the buy-in is greater so is the learner retention. 

13. Train in small groups

Sometimes training can be a bit singular. In other words, each employee has their own training track, gets their modules assigned and takes the training on their own.

However, some subjects work better in group training sessions. Group training can take several forms but the end goal is two or more brains are better than one. Ideas can be shared and different viewpoints are given. Plus, ideas can build off one another. 

You can incorporate group learning through an LMS by using things like chat functions where employees can communicate with one another on a certain topic. Or you can do this in person by assigning something like a group project to work through as a team. A group project is a great way to use individual skill sets to help others learn. Plus, it shows how different personalities can collaborate together strengthening soft skills in the process.

However, if you incorporate group learning, it’s beneficial to building lasting learner retention.

14. Provide rewards and recognition

Another motivating factor for learning is recognition. This comes in several forms from a “shout-out” in a company newsletter, to a tangible gift, to earning badges.

Whatever form it takes, building in some healthy competition and rewarding success, is important when it comes to improving learner retention. While ideally, you'd expect employees to jump at learning opportunities, this is not always the case.

By adding in rewards, you give employees an additional incentive to train successfully. 

Just make sure whatever reward you give is for applying what’s learned on the job. As we’ve said before, anyone can take the training, but retaining the information and putting it into action is key. Some examples of rewards may be electronics, flowers, paid time off, and office accessories.

Not only will employees tie successful training to rewards, but it gives them credibility in the eyes of their peers. So, it carries benefits beyond training retention.

15. Incorporate social learning

In order to make training more relatable to everyday life, incorporate social learning aspects. Just like employees may turn to Facebook groups for questions or LinkedIn for industry trends, social media can also be used within training to help skill retention.

For example, add features like course forums, social networks, or microblogs. These vehicles will let employees talk to each other about what they are learning. So, training becomes less of a one-time initiative and more of a collaborative continuous learning effort. This will help employees better understand the material learned, gather different perspectives, and gain some best practices.

16. Develop brain workouts

Just like you work out physically, the brain benefits from exercise as well.

For example, by incorporating things like problem-solving and decision-making, you improve employee memorization. And these are easy techniques to add to any training module. 

How do you ensure learner retention?

We’ve given you several ideas for improving learner retention in training. Although each learning program is unique, forgetting what’s taught is a universal human problem. That’s why it’s important to look at how you can help your employees retain needed skills.

It will strengthen your workforce, but also add value to your individuals. 

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