Changing behavior isn’t easy. Not only does it take a lot of hard work, but it requires a concrete process that you can trust and follow on a daily basis. Most training courses give you great content, but if that content isn’t deployed or delivered effectively, it is a waste of time and money.
Many organizations not only look for great content, they also look at the entertainment factor: Is the training fun? Is the speaker engaging? Did we get positive feedback from the participants?
These are important, but you can have a perfect score on all of them and your training can be a total flop, simply because the participants can’t apply the principles. It’s not because they aren’t capable of learning and applying the principles; it’s because the deployment methodology isn’t effective.
Too often content is delivered too quickly and too much information is given. It’s like drinking from a fire hose, and it leads participants to forget most of what they learned in 48 hours or less.
To combat this, we need to pay attention to three important components of learning:
1- The Forgetting Curve
I have literally asked thousands of people this question: “How quickly do you forget the information you learn at a corporate training?”
The answers vary, but not by much. Here are a few:
- A few days
- A few hours
- A week
- 2 weeks
Then I ask, “How much of the training is actually being applied 3 months later?”
The answers are almost always well below 10%. That’s a lot of money being spent on information that is quickly forgotten and never applied!
A study by Ebbinghaus and Goddard found that we typically lose approximately 75% of what we just learned within 48 hours.
After 3 weeks this “forgetting curve” is at 93%. That translates to 7% retention across the board, unless there is accountability to apply the material.
But let’s be honest and admit that the vast majority of the time, the accountability to ensure application of the training material is left up to the managers, many of whom many never have been trained in facilitation techniques or how to coach their people.
It all looks good on paper, but the forgetting curve is seldom overcome. Even at 25% retention, that is a lot of time and money wasted.
50 dollar bill among crumpled pieces of paper. Wasted business idea money waste concept.
With the consistency of follow-up coaching, studies show that retention can be as high as 87% after 30 days. What does this mean for you?
Your training needs to have follow-up coaching built into it for greater comprehension and accountability for application!
2- The Spacing Effect
Just having follow-ups isn’t enough. They have to be spaced out appropriately.
Spacing effect studies indicate that having the follow-ups too close or too far apart decreases recollection and application of the material learned. A month apart can be too long. People forget about the training and simply rush to do the homework. It’s more of a reminder of what they should be doing instead of holding them accountable to applying the principles on a daily basis.
Follow-ups that are too close together can create information overload, and retention rates will decrease, making your follow-ups ineffective.
For soft skills training, we have found that one week is the perfect amount of time for participants to apply what they are learning, and not so long that they forget about it between follow-ups. These are not reminders to see if they can get a question correct, but follow-ups with groups of their peers to learn from each other, share experiences and be held accountable to applying the information. We have seen two weeks apart work, too, but the further apart the follow-ups are, the less effective they become, as daily accountability begins to decrease.
Virtual work environments and dispersed employee populations need to be considered as well. Having the option for group follow-ups by phone is important since many organizations have team members all over the country or even the globe.
Ignoring the spacing effect of retention can cost your organization thousands of dollars in wasted training and greatly reduce the ROI of your training efforts.
3- Limitations of Working Memory
Studies show that if follow-ups have too much information in them, participants won’t be able to retain it all. Recent research has estimated working memory capacity to be about four (4) pieces of information at a time.
This also explains why 1-3 day training sessions are ineffective, no matter how enjoyable they are.
Having a 1-3 day training is fine, if it is only intended to introduce concepts. But because of the limitations of working memory, it is unreasonable to expect that any of your participants will remember more than 25% of the skills covered, let alone be able to put them into practice.
This principle also applies to the follow-up process. The information must be broken down into fewer than five pieces of information per follow-up if you expect people to remember to apply them throughout the week.
So, what does all this mean for training today?
Well, it simply means that for training to be effective you have to make time to follow up with the participants if you want to get the greatest return on your investment!
Deployment matters! The greatest content in the world is useless if it isn’t deployed effectively.
Johnny Walker is a Business Associate with Integrity Solutions and an executive coach working with both individuals and companies. Through coaching he has been able to assist professionals and teams navigate through difficult changes in company culture, increase job satisfaction, increase job performance, reach goals faster, and increase life satisfaction. A version of this blog post originally appeared here.