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Why learning retention matters

October 29, 2018

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James is a dedicated L&D professional who just delivered a new training program. The training program was developed with input from subject matter experts, it integrated engaging teaching-learning techniques, and it was delivered by an experienced, knowledgeable, and caring facilitator. Assessments administered at the start and finish of the program demonstrate learning gains among participants.  Evaluations from participants such as Maria demonstrate overwhelming satisfaction with the design and delivery of the learning event.

After returning to work, Maria’s supervisor is pleased to hear that she had a good learning experience and is enthusiastic about supporting new ideas, skills, and tools Maria will introduce as a result of her participation in the training program.

James’ supervisor is equally pleased to hear the event went well and to see the positive evaluation feedback. She’s eager for James to continue delivering such a high-quality learning experience.

Fast forward 1-year. James has delivered the training to several more cohorts and continues to see positive results from assessments and receive high marks in workshop evaluations.

He reconnects with Maria at a professional function, and they start to reminisce about the training program she participated in a year prior.  Maria expresses her fond memories of the workshop. James asks what has stuck with her.  She politely responds: “Everything.  It was just such a great experience.  I feel like I learned so much.”  James pushes the point: “That’s great to hear. But if you were talking to potential participants, what benefits would you tell them you got from the workshop?” Maria demurs: “I just learned so much.  It was a great experience.”  James politely presses on: “OK, but what’s one thing you remember from the workshop?  Or one thing you’ve used at work?” Maria recognizes what James is asking and realizes he deserves an honest answer: “James.  I really do have great memories of the training program but I don’t remember much of what we discussed.  When I got back to work, I was swamped catching up with my day-to-day duties. My supervisor was supportive and encouraged me to bring in new ideas, but I quickly lost track of most of what we discussed and lost any momentum I had at the end of the workshop.  Looking back, I realize I lost an opportunity to benefit from what I learned during the workshop.”

James thoughtfully responds: “I understand.  I’m glad to hear you continue to have fond memories of the program even if it didn’t translate to benefits at work. I wonder if anyone else has a similar experience, but it’s not easy to stay in touch with participants. And if others are having similar experiences, that means the benefits of my good training design are stuck in the classroom and the positive workshop feedback is not a real indication of results.” And then in a moment of full transparency, James ponders: “Does it make sense for me to continue offering this training program?  And does it make sense for managers to continue sending people to it?”

This is the first in a series of five articles to address many of the issues James is grappling with after talking to Maria.  He’s a thoughtful and well-intentioned professional who wants his efforts to lead not only to learning but also the transfer of new knowledge and skills and results in the workplace. His training program is good, but it may be unable to deliver on the change and improvement that should be the intention and result of effective learning experiences.

These articles propose a different way forward—one that primarily supports learning retention but also encourages the application of new knowledge and skills in the workplace. We will also discuss opportunities to track participant performance once they return to the workplace.

If you have a role in the design, development, or delivery of learning events, if you participate in learning events, or if you are a supervisor, these articles are written to help you get more value out of your investments in professional development, capacity building, and training.

In a handful of short articles, we will explore the fundamentals, benefits, and challenges of learning retention as well as a variety of use cases.  Each article is meant to be practical and tangible.  And to walk the walk, readers can participate in a learning retention program to help reinforce and support application of the concepts conveyed in the articles! More information on that will follow shortly.

To summarize the key points in this first article on learning retention:

  • Learning is important. Learning retention is even better and can lead to application of new knowledge and skills and programmatic or organizational results.
  • L&D professionals who care about good training events have a natural investment in what happens after the event—in fact, what happens after participants leave is more important than what happens while they are there.
  • Participants and their managers also have a significant investment in success after the learning event concludes, and thus should be invested in learning retention as the natural next step toward improved performance.

Intrigued by the concept of learning retention? The final blog in this series “Leveraging the learning retention approach” will include an opportunity to sign up for a learning retention booster program on the topic of learning retention. The program will be delivered to you by email and will include fun, quiz-type questions that reinforce the concepts discussed in this blog series and help you consider ways to use or adapt the concepts and approach in your work.