14 March 2024

Lost in time: remedies for forgotten learning

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Unless we immediately apply what we learn, we often don’t retain this information. Picture: File.

Roberta Matuson wonders why organisations spend billions of dollars on training programs each year when research shows employees will forget at least 50 per cent of what they learn within a few days.

Let me ask you a question. How did you apply your three biggest takeaways from a training program you attended within the past three years?

How about the previous year? Yep. That’s what I thought.

If you’re like most people, you barely remember one thing you learned when attending a training program unless you had an opportunity to apply your learning immediately.

It’s a known fact that humans often forget what they learned, yet organisations worldwide spend billions of dollars a year trying to equip employees with new skills, improved teamwork, and a culture of continuous learning.

This traditional training doesn’t work for several reasons, including the fact that unless we immediately apply what we learn, we often don’t retain this information.

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Here’s what I mean. Suppose your organisation conducts a one-day workshop on how to manage people. It covers topics such as how to hire and fire employees, which are essential skills for managers.

However, many attendees are running teams that are fully staffed or aren’t currently faced with the challenging task of letting someone go.

Fast-forward a year later. A manager needs to terminate someone.

Although they may have aced the exercise on this topic in their training class, they botch up the termination to the point where your employment lawyers must get involved. This may come as a surprise to you, but it doesn’t surprise me. Here’s why.

The manager lacked an opportunity to apply their learning in real time. Therefore, what they may have learned didn’t stick.

Learning is a process, not an event. If you want your employees to learn new skills and prepare for the challenges ahead, then get rid of your training section.

Instead, provide people with coaches. Before saying you can’t afford to do this, think about how much you’re currently wasting on training.

When doing so, consider the costs that occur when people attend training programs, lunch, venue costs, the payroll cost of your training section, etc.

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Coaching works when those who are coached have a trusted resource they can rely upon in real time. As long as they have unrestricted access to their coach, they can contact him or her for advice when they need guidance.

Most apply what they learn from their conversations right away, which cements their learning.

If individual coaching is not feasible, consider offering peer coaching, where individuals of similar professional backgrounds or interests help each other grow and develop with the help of an executive coach.

Participants in these programs benefit from knowledge sharing, accountability, fresh perspectives, support, and access to an expert who can help swiftly guide them through sticky situations.

In an era where every dollar counts, it’s time to closely examine all expenditures to ensure your return on investment is worth it.

Your training investments can and should yield concrete results that will stand the test of time.

Roberta Matuson is president of Matuson Consulting, which helps Fortune 500 companies and high-growth businesses create exceptional workplaces leading to extraordinary results. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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