How to Improve the Efficacy of Employee Training

Picture this: It’s a routine Wednesday afternoon, halfway through a hectic work week, and you’re told that you need to complete a routine employee training module. You’re tired from the demands of the day so far, so you attend and complete the training while thinking of the other work tasks you need to get done, like what your commute home will be like, or what you’re going to eat for dinner.

By the time Thursday morning rolls around, you haven’t got a clue what was in the training module, let alone what it was even about. 

Sound familiar? If so, then it’s likely that your employees are feeling the same way – distracted – and any training and development efforts you are currently using are simply going to waste. This is why it’s so important to take the time to create engaging and strategic employee training programs so that employees feel valued, and they retain critical information that will help them improve in their jobs.

This blog explores why this is so crucial and presents ways that leadership teams can make employee training more effective by increasing the learning and retention of information. 

The Benefits of Improved Information Retention

It’s no secret that the happier employees are, the more likely an employer is to be competitive in terms of attracting top talent. One way to help employees feel happier is to invest in them with effective and comprehensive employee training and development programs. This means going above and beyond the standard training efforts by making employee learning something that your teammates can look forward to, rather than mindlessly checking it off a list out of a sense of obligation. 

This is especially crucial when it comes to new employees. According to Harvard Business Review, organizations with a standardized onboarding process experience 62% greater new hire productivity, along with 50% greater new hire retention. And since up to 20% of staff turnover happens within the first 45 days of being hired, a proven onboarding process is necessary. 

The questions your leadership teams need to be asking when it comes to your company’s learning and development programs are as follows:

  • How can we measure the learning and professional growth of our employees?
  • What pitfalls can we anticipate and avoid?
  • What roles do we want to designate when it comes to these training programs, and who will take charge of them? 
  • Will HR staff be involved, and if so, to what degree?

According to Forbes, there are four main elements of effective employee training:

  • Microlearning helps increase knowledge retention. Instead of marathoning learning events, introduce important information to employees in small doses to increase the odds that they retain that information for longer than 30 days.
  • Use technology. With eLearning advancements in recent years, it’s easier than ever to create high-quality online learning programs that keep employees focused and engaged in the materials.
  • Make learning endeavors easier to remember. Providing practical examples and hands-on learning experiences will help employees remember and understand content much better than if they just read about it in a book or on a screen.

Now that you know the importance of improving the employee learning and training experience, let’s explore the role of memory. Understanding how the brain works and learns is a critical factor in your ability to craft meaningful and effective training and development programs for your teams. 

The Role of Memory

You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to understand the basics of how learning and memory function in the brain, although learning and memory are inherently very complex topics for psychologists. When it comes to creating a positive and lasting employee training experience, however, we just need to understand the basics. 

First, let’s break down the differences between learning and memory

Learning is often referred to as a permanent change in behavior as a result of experience. The science of learning tends to focus on how people operate within their environments and alter their behavior as a result of what they encounter. 

There are three major types of learning:

  1. Classical conditioning – a neutral stimulus promotes a neutral response
  1. Operant conditioning – a response is increased or decreased as a result of punishment of certain behaviors
  1. Observational learning – learning is a result of observing and imitating others

Of course, in the workplace, we want to avoid operant conditioning while favoring observational learning experiences that are dynamic and play on practicality and emotional responses, as these types of learning experiences are more likely to stick in a productive way that builds the employee up instead of wearing them down. 

Memory, on the other hand, is the expression of knowledge or skills acquired. One key way to know the difference between learning and memory is to consider the amount of time involved in each. If a skill is learned through a laborious process of trial and error, that is learning. If a skill is acquired instantly, that is simply memory in action. 

We want to prioritize the learning process over the memorization process at work. Furthermore, the retrieval of memories helps to solidify learning – so regularly asking employees to access something they learned previously will help improve retention of said knowledge or skills. 

Part of the learning process involves improving cognitive memory functions, because being able to retain a piece of knowledge or a new skill will ultimately involve both memory and learning working together to make a skill or knowledge set understandable and useful for the long-term. 

The following are some ways in which you will want to promote positive cognitive function as it relates to memory for your employees. Remember, ability varies from person to person, so take the time to work with your employees where they are, rather than expecting them to be at any particular level from the start. 

  • Encourage regularly learning something new. Come up with a specific number of hours per month that you’d like to have employees be engaged in professional development activities to ensure that they stay sharp and motivated learners. You can, of course, provide specific professional development for employees each month, or you could encourage them to be creative and choose their own to ensure that they fully engage in the learning process.
  • Where appropriate, use acronyms, abbreviations and mnemonic devices to help employees retain information.
  • Encourage employees to use all senses while learning. Demonstrate how they might do this so that they can engage in observational learning
  • Encourage a healthy work-life balance and promote holistic wellness. Employees who are eagerly involved in learning efforts at work will likely be involved in personal learning endeavors outside of work, as well.
  • Have a positive company culture that promotes stress-busting activities and exercise, as these will help keep the mind sharp.

Methods for Improving Information Retention

Now that we have a basic understanding of memory and learning, along with some ideas to improve learning and cognitive function in our employees, let’s look into some methods for improving information retention and how these can be woven into any training program. 

Let’s start with an example. Many top companies that lead in their industries have stellar employee training and development programs. What do top companies do differently that sets them apart? Here are some of the common factors:

  • Centering technology as a tool to create unique and actively engaging learning modules, such as the use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality
  • Using cloud technologies to organize and disperse training materials. This content can remain useful and be recycled as appropriate since it never expires
  • Recognizing that employee training is a necessity, not a luxury, so they invest in standout programs with high return on investment

Beyond these things, here is what we recommend you take into consideration when revamping your employee training ideals:

  • Utilize technologies that have space for personalized learning objectives, so that learning is specific to each time or individual.
  • Make sure to regularly incorporate upskilling of both hard and soft skills so that employees can stay on top of industry trends, helping to keep your organization competitive and attractive to top talent.
  • Move away from thinking about learning as one-off events and incorporate it as a continuous cycle.
  • Let employees learn in a way that allows them to incorporate their pre-existing skills and knowledge from other jobs and/or experiences, and encourage them to share this with their teams and leaders.
  • Ensure that employees take action with their newly learned skills/knowledge and provide opportunities for regular use and recall of them.
  • Allow appropriate space and time for both a teaching portion of training and a doing portion.
  • Encourage employees to use their creativity to apply what they’ve learned to their work.
  • Incorporate personal ideals and emotions into learning so that it’s easier for employees to apply new knowledge to a wide variety of situations.
  • Find a way that works for your organization to monitor and measure outcomes of employee learning programs through the use of surveys, employee feedback, mentor programs, etc. 

Advice for Digesting and Retaining

Now that you’ve taken the time to understand how memory and learning work in terms of employee learning and training programs, it’s important that you yourself do what you need to do to digest and retain this information. A great way to do this will be to work with your leadership teams to apply this information into actionable steps that you can use in your organization. Before you know it, you’ll have an employee training and development program that your team members will rave about, making your investments likely to have a high ROI and providing more space for your employees to feel satisfied in their current roles.

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