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Bonus Focus - What about When Remembering Really Matters?

 

By Steven Boller


When we say our goal is to “put learners first,” what do we really mean? Most of us would say that we design and deliver learning solutions based off of what we think our learners need. It is certainly difficult to encapsulate everyone’s needs and preferences into a single solution or curriculum, but that is what we try to do.

But how often do we stop to consider why the training is being delivered in the first place? Training always has a “why,” and it’s usually driven by a variety of stakeholders throughout the organization. Combine these many voices with the regulatory and competitive pressures of the life sciences industry, and it’s easy to see how trainers’ jobs have been become so much more complex.

In such a challenging landscape, learners need clear, actionable information they can immediately apply on the job to meet desired objectives. They need training to help them be more effective and productive. They need to be able to recall critical information at the time of need, locate reference materials wherever their jobs take them and feel confident in their abilities.

In order to focus training efforts on what learners need, we must pay attention to our desired outcomes. Organizational leaders increasingly look at training as part of the solution when they have business challenges to address or growth goals to reach. Organizations invest billions of dollars creating and delivering these solutions. The Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD) estimates that in 2012 organizations spent roughly $164.2 billion on employee training. Did those dollars make an impact?

 

What Happens When Learners Forget?

With stakes so high, it is not uncommon for learners’ jobs to depend on their ability to master the critical information delivered to them via training. Imagine you must design and deliver a learning solution that addresses one of the following business problems. What would your approach be?

 

·         A medical device company serving home therapy patients identifies three issues that stifle revenue growth.  First, patients opt for home therapy, complete the expensive training program, then opt out after a few weeks. Second, it takes far too long to train each patient. Finally, your training centers can only handle a small number of patients at one time. You need to reduce the patient drop rate, cap the length of training at four weeks, and double the number of patients trained per month.

·         You are launching a new pharmaceutical product in a brand new country. Sales reps know nothing about the new product and the messaging provided by the marketing team does not directly apply to this new market. The company is looking at this new product as a major part of its strategic growth plans. You must help sales reps master key features and benefits about your product, and competitor products, to create and maintain a large sales pipeline.

·         Hospitals invest millions of dollars to acquire lab equipment your company sells. Your company must provide a support specialist until they can competently use the product. It is expensive to leave the support specialist at a customer site, but training keep going several weeks longer than it is intended. You do not want to hire more technicians; you want to make training sessions more efficient so existing technicians can visit more customers. How do you redesign the customer training to make it more efficient? How do you ramp the customer up faster?

 

In all three of these situations, the solutions used to train learners will directly impact either revenue or profitability for the organization. The quality of the training provided has the potential to drive tangible results like customer retention, improved efficiency, increased sales, and decreased support costs.

In scenarios like these, it’s clear that remembering really matters. Unfortunately, research tells us that much of what we learn is forgotten very quickly. How fast? It depends on prior knowledge and experience, but research gives us figures that range from 30-90 percent within 3-6 days’ time.

Despite their good intentions, stakeholders and trainers make choices that sabotage the training effort and result in wasted dollars. Learners take a course or attend a training session only to end up not applying what they learned because they don’t remember what they were taught.

 

4 Strategies to Increase Learner Retention

The good news? Proven strategies exist that inhibit forgetting and enhance remembering. Consider how the four strategies mentioned below could be used to improve the quality of your training:

 

·         Provide frequent, spaced intervals of learning instead of huge chunks. It’s time to restructure those one-time training sessions and product launch meetings to provide multiple exposures to key information over a longer period of time. The time in between learning experiences is critical to the formation of memories.

·         Provide multiple repetitions. Spacing is just one part of how we remember. Our brains are constantly working to decide what our priorities should be cognitively. The more often key information is repeated, the higher the priority our brains make it. Frequent repetitions will cue learners’ brains that something is important and needs to be retained.

·         Provide immediate feedback for mistakes, and make sure learners get it right before moving forward. Don’t give learners a chance to internalize incorrect information, only to find out they missed the mark when taking a final assessment or post-test. Instead, provide feedback at the point where they make a mistake. Require learners to correct the mistake before moving on. Game-based solutions are a great example of feedback done right.

·         Use Stories to Drive the Learning Experience: Our brains have a much easier time with things we can store in “episodic” memory. We can far more easily recall facts embedded into a story (or episode) than we can recall facts presented as discrete items. The story elements serve as a memory trigger for us. Consider how a well-crafted story, even a fantasy-driven story, could be used to anchor key pieces of information in learners’ memories.

 

Steven Boller is the marketing director at Bottom-Line Performance, Inc. The referenced white paper is BLP's When Remembering Really Matters: Learning Strategies for Long-Term Retention.

 

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