The Forgetting Curve: It’s Why Your Training Program Doesn’t Stick

by | Mar 22, 2022

Here’s how you can train managers for employee retention & satisfaction

You’re trying to do the right thing by investing in training for your staff. But is it sticking? If it’s not sticking, then it’s not making a difference for them, for you or the organization. I talked to clients today who wanted a virtual training program. My topic was similar to a topic on which they recently had training. I asked, “What did you cover in the previous training?”  The first person said, “I don’t remember.” She asked the other two what they remembered. None of them remembered anything about the training! And it was their most recent session about a month ago! The sad part is this is not unusual. To find out why, let’s go back to 1885 and meet Hermann Ebbinghaus. 

Hermann Ebbinghaus studied learning and memory. By testing his own memory of new information, he discovered that new information disappears at an exponential rate. His research results (known as the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve) shows that learners forget an average of 90% of what they learned within the first seven days. That may cause you to question your investment in training! But…no worries. There are easy, practical ways to combat this memory loss. The bigger issue is to ensure that your training program uses memory and application techniques. If not, change your training. Otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time (and money).

The Forgetting Curve & How to Combat Its Effects for
Better Management Training

1. Build in reminders.

One-and-done training doesn’t work. What does work is to build in reminders after the training. Reminders need not be elaborate. The goal is to bring the information back into working memory. Do that repeatedly and memory is created. In Blue Fjord Leader training programs, we provide periodic reminder emails the prompt action. We also provide tactile learning aids as visual reminders. In one exercise participants fold a paper airplane and refold the same paper in opposing directions. This illustrates the memory “folds” in the brain and the difficulty in “refolding” the brain into new habits. The activity and the visual of the airplane, reminds the participant that changing habits takes effort. Plus, the activity itself creates memory.

2. Make the training interactive.

I have a rule of thumb in our training programs. If I’m talking, they’re not learning. If they’re talking, they’re learning. Of course, I teach concepts, skills using real-world examples, but the real learning happens when they talk about applying the skill in their own work environment. We talk as a group, and they talk in breakouts. They write down their main take-aways (writing creates memory). They are doing the work!

3. Apply the learning.

The most important way to make your training stick, is to apply the learning. Each program we do at Blue Fjord Leaders includes applications in their real work environment. We give specific application assignments with follow-up. Participants share their experiences in applying their new skill through online forums. This is where the rubber meets the road. The participant actively works with the skill in their own world. The skill is immediately relevant and relevant skills are sticky. Writing about their experiences in the online forum further embeds the learning. 

Why spend money and time on professional development that isn’t making a difference when it’s easy to design training that will make a difference? Look at your training programs. Are they delivering the impact you expect? If not, contact Blue Fjord Leaders to customize training for managers that improves employee retention and satisfaction.

Our training sticks because it’s designed that way from the beginning.


Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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