On its own, the human brain does an adequate job of retaining information. Any knowledge retained will decrease over time without reinforcement (don’t even ask me to recall high school math!). There is a responsibility to make sure that an employee truly knows the skills. This goes further than referring to your online training software to see if they’ve passed.
Certified But Not Qualified
Depending on your industry or organization, the implications of staff that have forgotten the important lessons can be huge. The less critical implications could range from employees who forget their lessons and don’t work as efficiently. On the more critical end of the spectrum, you could run into situations where they put themselves and other co-workers within harm’s way because the safety knowledge related to their job didn’t stick.
In addition to the tragedy of having injured staff members, this also opens up the door to litigation. With that in mind, we need to cast a further look at the training itself to examine its deficiencies.
It’s The Training!
Why do employees forget? The first answer is that they simply weren’t that engaged to begin with. If we trace that back to the source it always leads to the online training.
“Presentation-style” courses that do little in terms of interactivity or explaining the real-world consequences of not knowing the information fail when it comes to getting the employees’ attention.
Attention is key! Without the undivided attention of an employee from the outset, training becomes an uphill battle. So where do we start? The first step is to take an objective look at the training itself and ask yourself, “Is this something I would remember in two hours?” The answer can often be humbling.
Role-playing and scenario-based training have been shown to increase knowledge retention by presenting the learning within a relatable real-world context. This immediately draws the employee into the training because it has suddenly become meaningful and evokes an emotional response.
Inversely, “talk and test” style training simply puts the employees to sleep. I don’t have to tell you about the lectures you’ve sat through in post-secondary in order to quantify it. Additionally, make sure that the online training is designed in a way that rewards knowledge recognition, not knowledge recall.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
A good starting point to stem the leak of knowledge is to look at the steps that someone needs to take in order to become truly proficient at a task. This is described eloquently as the Four Stages Of Competence.
The Four Stages Of Competence are divided into Unconscious Incompetent, Conscious Incompetent, Conscious Competent, Unconscious Competent. Taking the analogy of learning to tie one’s shoes, lets have a look at how this all fits together.
- Unconscious Incompetent
- In this stage you don’t know that you are unable to tie your shoes.
- Conscious Incompetent
- In this stage you are aware but haven’t gained the skill to tie your shoes.
- Conscious Competent (skill)
- In this stage you have gained a skill and are aware when you are using it to tie your shoes.
- Unconscious Competent (habit)
- In this stage, the skill has become habit and you are unaware that you are using that skill in order to tie your shoes.
Unconscious Competent is the goal of any training program but rarely is that ever done through online training alone. It’s accomplished through the reinforcement of the knowledge via spaced repetition of knowledge checks after the initial online training has been completed. This can be accomplished by subsequent knowledge checks delivered via your learning management system (LMS) or in-person through a blended learning program.
Sorry. What Was That Again?
While a well-designed online training course can do wonders to impart knowledge, we are human after all. It’s the continued reinforcement of that knowledge which is key and transforms a skill into a habit.
Eric Skilling likes to make stuff. He's been doing so as long as he can remember -- which happens to be the 1990s when he was spending his extra time at the Alberta College of Art And Design being co-editor and writer for the infamous Calgary zine Squidmail. Later on Eric helped to develop content for Slow Home Studio, a website and movement advocating a more thoughtful approach to residential design.
Eric can currently found writing and developing content for Vantage Path and having fun being neck deep in the world of elearning. In his spare time he annoys and offends people as the host of two podcasts, Tip Tap Tip and The Salad Years.