Training to Maximize Retention

How two simple practices can make all the difference in the efficiency of a training system

Training to Maximize Retention

There is one line that is common in movies about a character’s heroic quest, a line spoken by the mentor character, whether that is Dom Cobb in Inception, Lieutenant Willy in Starship Troopers, or Patches O’Houlihan in Dodgeball, that highlights the importance of training to maximize retention. What is that line?

“Remember your training.”

Engaging the Memory

Just three simple words, but they inspire the hero to think back over the long training montage and just how far he or she has come. It also provides them with the strength they need to overcome the significant challenges that lie before them. But one question remains for a manager watching that video to answer for herself: how do they remember their training so well? And that leads to other questions: how can I ensure my employees remember their training that well? What are the keys to training to maximize retention?


Method One: Applying the Information

Fortunately, there are a couple different methods for training to maximize retention that are easily applicable to most training systems. The first is fairly obvious, as it merely requires the trainee to use the information he has learned on a regular basis. This is easily summed up as the “Use it or lose it” approach.

However, that approach is not sufficient for the entirety of a training system. There are two reasons for this. First, simply relying on experience leaves open the possibility of the individual developing bad habits and then remembering them instead of the best practices. Second, the employee will not have a way of reinforcing material that does not come up on a regular basis. So, while he will easily recall what to do when first arriving at work, which may be the same thing most days, he will have a harder time recalling what to do in an emergency situation, which is clearly a time when it is important to know what steps to take.


Method Two: Reinforcing the Material

There is a second method to training to maximize retention that avoids these two pitfalls, and it is not difficult to incorporate it into any training system. Reinforcing material with a quiz after it has been presented forces the employee to think back over what he learned and allows the information to be conveyed in a different format, perhaps with a real-world example. This requires critical thinking and engagement with the material, which lead to deeper learning than the simple memorization of facts.

It is important to note that during the process of quizzing over material, there are going to be some mistakes. Not every question will be answered correctly, but that should not be seen as a failure. In making a mistake on a quiz, the employee has a chance to correct his own misconception, and he will be more likely to remember that information afterward. Additionally, it is far more preferable to make a mistake on a quiz than while performing a work task, especially if that task is safety critical.

Think about your training system. What is it doing to ensure your employees remember what they learn? Are there topics covered in training that don’t seem to stick with your employees? Are you training to maximize retention?


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