Why Is Knowledge Retention Important In Business?

Why Is Knowledge Retention Important In Business?
Summary: Knowledge retention—how well your employees retain the things they learn—affects business performance and your bottom line.

The Value Of Knowledge Retention In Business

Have you ever walked out of a training session and realized you’ve already forgotten some of the information you were told? If you think not, perhaps you’ve just forgotten that too?

It’s hardly news that we forget things over time, but, in business, this can impact an organization’s performance and bottom line. We expect employees to forget elements of their training, of course, but as they do, this can contribute to skill fade [1], which can be defined as the decay of ability or adeptness over a period of non-use. However, a lot will depend on the type and nature of the individual’s expertise or competence.

There are various factors that contribute to skills fade, including:

Retention Interval

The biggest and most widely accepted reason for failing to remember certain information is the interval between retention. Essentially, the longer the period of non-use, the greater the probability of decay.


Often said to be the single most important factor in knowledge retention, overlearning refers to the amount of extra training beyond the point needed to reach competency. The reason why this is a potential problem is that overlearning can induce complacency and increase the association between stimulus and response. On top of that, by identifying the perfect way to perform a task or duty through too much training, employees can get stressed or anxious that only the very best will suffice.

Task Type

Whether it is physical, cognitive, open-loop, closed-loop, natural or artificial, the type of task also makes a big difference. Some people are more capable of performing duties that require physical strength or an exertion of forces, while others excel at problem-solving and decision-making. In terms of skill fade, cognitive tasks can be rehearsed easier than physical ones. Duties that have no beginning or end and a specific context are better retained than those with no conclusion or frame of reference.

Conditions Of Retrieval

Retention is also dependent on the conditions and environment of training. If this is vastly different from the real-life scenario, skill retention will suffer. However, if the test and learning setting is similar to the workplace and the employee has cues to draw upon, they will perform a lot stronger.

Methods For Training, Testing, And Evaluation

The type of training and testing methods used also affects knowledge retention. Practical tuition or on-the-job training might lead to better retention in some job roles compared to lectures and classroom teaching for others. Furthermore, the majority of retention tests take place after teaching has taken place at a later date. By this time, retention interval becomes an issue again. While evaluation criteria such as reactions, learning, behavior, and results do not affect skill fade, it is an important consideration as this is how knowledge retention is measured.

Individual Ability

It is no real surprise that individuals with higher abilities show less skill fade than their less able peers. This is usually because lower ability learners forget larger chunks of abstract and theoretical material easier than others.

It’s important, therefore, that "knowledge retention" is considered when planning and delivering any training for employees. Knowledge retention refers to how well learners remember knowledge and, in business, how well the combined knowledge within an organization is preserved over time.

Fortunately, there is actually some science to how we forget. In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus hypothesized a curve that suggested the rate at which we forget information decreases over time, although we still continue to lose info. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve [2] also suggested that the rate of forgetting was reduced each time newly learned information was reviewed.

This is the basis for Spaced Repetition [3], the learning technique that Wranx is built upon. Spaced Repetition is based on the principle of exposing learners to knowledge repeatedly and increasing the length of time between exposure as knowledge is shown to have been retained. A study by Kramar et al at the University of Southern California explained that this repeated firing between the areas of the brain responsible for certain memories served to strengthen those memories.

So, we know why knowledge retention is important in business and the science behind it. For organizations, it’s simply a case of understanding what the impact might be for them and what can be done to improve it. There’s more information about knowledge retention in our expert guide, which covers its benefits, learning techniques and tips for improving knowledge retention.


[1] What is Skill Fade and How to Combat it?

[2] What is the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve?

[3] Learning with spaced repetition

Originally published at blog.wranx.com.