Improving knowledge retention in learners

Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager

Have you ever returned to work from a training session, excited about putting your newfound knowledge and skills into action, only to fall back into old work habits within a week? You’re not alone.

For many workers, knowledge gained through traditional training methods can often prove hard to retain. In fact, only 20 percent of trainees will actually change the way they work as a result of training. This means that most learners, even those with the best intentions, are failing to apply what they’ve learnt in training to the workplace – and this is largely due to a lack of knowledge retention.


Knowledge retention is a vital component of successful learning and development. For employees, successful training tools are essential for professional development, with staff who receive ongoing, engaging training also likely to be happier and more satisfied in their jobs. Effective training methods are also critical for employers, as an essential part of maintaining and improving service standards and profits. With learning and development taking up a significant part of the budget for most organizations, it’s important for employers to see a positive return on their investment.

So how can you help staff to retain knowledge after training? Are some learning methods more effective for knowledge retention than others? Let’s look at some important training methods and ideas you can use to help improve knowledge retention in your learners.

Make training sessions short and sweet

Let’s be honest. Digesting information, learning new skills and acquiring fresh knowledge can be hard work. It’s even harder when your boss sends you to training sessions that aren’t relevant to your position or are just downright boring. After all, it’s difficult to recall information if you weren’t really listening in the first place!

To prevent boredom – the number one enemy of knowledge retention – trainers should endeavour to make their sessions as engaging as possible for learners. To increase the engagement level with your audience (and overall success of your training) you need to provoke a mental shift within your learners – each individual needs to want to change, before they can feel motivated to put these plans and thoughts into action for long-term change.

“Only when people believe that the personal benefits of making the change outweigh the pain of doing so will they commit to altering their behavior,” says Sebastian Bailey, author of Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently.

Bailey also recommends keeping training sessions short to “increase the likelihood that learning will stick,” with bite-sized chunks of learning resulting in a 17 percent greater transfer of knowledge, and participants learning and remembering more from these sessions. Similarly, Dianne Dukette and David Cornish suggest keeping things short, with their research finding that the maximum attention span for learning is 20 minutes.

Set your goals – and know how to stick to them!

In addition to being short and sweet, the most successful training sessions also contain an element of goal setting. While this may be common knowledge for trainers, there’s a very important tip for making your goal setting exercises considerably more effective.

Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer found that when he asked his students to think specifically about when, where, and how they were going to update their resumes, 80 percent of the students did so, compared with 20 percent of those who simply wrote down their commitment but didn’t follow through.

That’s why it’s very important to get individuals to think about exactly how they'll implement changes when they get back to their desk or work site, rather than just focusing on a vague outcome. This form of action delivers far better results for knowledge retention amongst learners.

The benefits of eLearning for knowledge retention

One of the most effective training methods for improved knowledge retention is online learning. As we’ve said, modern training sessions need to be short, engaging and goal-oriented – and you’ll find eLearning offers employees all of those elements.

With online training, gone are the days of sitting in an all-day conference room, trying to hear what the presenter is saying and not think about how long you’ve got until lunch. These days, eLearning offers employees convenient, engaging training tools that can be used how and when they prefer.

Through online courses and mobile-friendly apps, staff can access training at a time and place that suits them, while working through learning materials at their own pace. In fact, studies have shown that using apps for training can greatly improve knowledge retention, with students reaching a competent level nearly four times faster than by using traditional training methods. The freedom and flexibility of online learning encourages full focus, helping individuals to become more engaged with the materials and retain more of what they’re absorbing.

Hopefully this has provided you with some helpful ideas for your company’s learning and development, to ensure staff are receiving the most effective training methods for improved knowledge retention. If you’re interested in finding out more about online learning, visit the Go1 website and see how eLearning can work for your staff.


Go1 helps millions of people in thousands of organizations engage in learning that is relevant, effective and inspiring.
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