Learning and Development: Five Ways to Make Learning Stick

By Emerson Associate Director, Kristin Sleeper

Woman giving thumbs up with post-it stuck on her forehead

I’m a mom of two kids. I often find myself helping them with homework or doing practice quizzes with them to see if they remember what they learned in class. Both play sports and on many days I can be found at a baseball or soccer field working with them one-on-one to apply skills they learned in their weekly team practice. Being a mom has shown me that learning doesn’t happen in a single event. It takes follow up, repetition, coaching and practice to make it stick. Why should this be any different in the workplace?

I’ve worked with many clients who see training as a one-time event, thinking their employees will return to the job and immediately apply what they’ve learned. That instant mastery is more the exception than the rule. I recently came across an article stating that 70% of employee training is forgotten within 24 hours. That’s a pretty discouraging statistic for a learning professional. But we can increase that retention .

I have five tips that can be applied in any situation to improve application of the learning on the job:

  • Make it visual. Visualization is a powerful tool in retention. 80% of people remember what they see and do, but only 10% remember what they hear. When we make training more visual, we automatically improve learning.
  • Involve the manager. Supervisors should be involved before, during and after training. For example, they can set expectations before the training and ensure employees know why they should attend. Managers who attend training themselves, side by side employees, are more effective coaches when learning transfers to the job. They can also debrief after the training to reinforce what was learned.
  • Plan follow-up activities. Follow-up is powerful because it turns the individual’s focus back to the new skills. On-the-job challenges, collaboration with peers, and regular checkpoints to observe and encourage employees – all of these reinforce learning.
  • Schedule training at the point of need. Minimize the time between learning and real-world performance; train only what is immediately needed on the job. This is especially effective for systems training. If you train employees on new technology too far in advance of when they actually use it for the first time, there’s a good chance they won’t remember what to do. Embedding training and performance support into the system itself lets the employee get help exactly when they need it.
  • Chunk it. Avoid information overload; people retain more complex information when it’s chunked into small modules and delivered at a manageable pace. For example, an employee could click on a button within a screen to view a short 1-2 minute video demonstration of the task he needs to perform on that screen. They would get only what they need, when they need it.

The next time you design a learning program, think about repetition, reinforcement and retention. Whether it’s kids or employees, the goal is to make the learning stick and the “stickier” the better!

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