Employees need your help to remember what they learn

What did you have for dinner last Tuesday?

Unless you had an epic dining experience or hold to a strict daily menu, you probably needed a minute or two to remember what you had… if you remember at all. 

plate of pasta

Why do we remember some things but not others? Why can you remember your home telephone number from when you were 9 years old but not where you left the scissors five minutes ago? Turns out, this is how human memory works. It’s also a reality learning teams must keep in mind when they build employee training.

See how a few minutes of daily reinforcement makes the learning really stick. 

There are several reasons why employees don’t apply what they learn. They may not have the opportunity or resources to put new knowledge to use. They may not be properly motivated to change their on-the-job behaviors. But, they also may just not remember. You don’t have to be a cognitive psychologist to acknowledge how quickly people can forget new information, just like you (probably) forgot about last Tuesday’s dinner. People need help to overcome the forgetting curve, even if they’re highly motivated to learn. 

continuous and adaptive learning curve

Every employee needs help remembering what they’ve learned. This is especially important on the frontline. Things change incredibly fast, and frontline employees make hundreds of split-second decisions every day that directly impact your customers and business. You need to do everything you can to make sure they have the right information top of mind. Here are three simple ways you can reinforce learning on the frontline. 

1. Ask questions.

Why were flash cards more effective than re-reading the chapter when preparing for a test in school? This concept is called retrieval practice. Memory is created by a complex series of connections between nerve cells within our brains. Challenging someone to recall and apply information is the most effective way to promote long-term knowledge retention. By repeatedly triggering certain cells in a certain order, you can make it easier for your brain to repeat this sequence in the future. You can then access the information more quickly when you need it—like when you’re a grocery associate tasked with applying the latest safety protocols.

Apply retrieval practice in your training programs with question-based learning. Yes, questions can be used for more than just tests. Ask your employees two or three questions every day as part of a reinforcement program. Use scenario-based questions to challenge employees to recall and apply their knowledge, just as they do on the job. This also helps you track the current knowledge level for each employee so you can present questions on various topics at just the right time. This spaced learning approach combats knowledge decay and maximizes retention. After all, how much information did you remember long-term when you crammed for the test the night before? 

2. Crutch with on-demand support.

Employees are under a lot of pressure to perform after training, especially when they first join the company. They have a lot on their minds, which often causes them to forget new information even more quickly. This can result in poor performance, negative feedback, reduced engagement and increased turnover. Employees need a knowledge crutch until your reinforcement program has time to do its thing. 

Make sure employees have access to on-demand information in the workflow. They can look up anything they forget and use reference articles, short videos and job aids to reinforce their own knowledge. On-demand resources should be available when and where employees will use the information, not just in the manager’s office or break room. Preferably, frontline employees should access shared knowledge with the same devices they use on their job – or their personal smartphones.

3. Coach.

Managers play an essential role in workplace learning. They work alongside employees every day, observing their performance and providing feedback. Coaching conversations are another great way to reinforce knowledge. Managers add context to your training by showing employees how they can best apply their knowledge on the job. Enable managers with actionable reporting and insights, including knowledge, behavior and performance data, so they can provide each employee with timely, personalized feedback.

Companies spend a lot of time, money and resources on employee training. Unfortunately, a lot of this is wasted due to basic human nature. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to continue. Once you apply simple practices like question-based learning, on-demand knowledge and coaching to reinforce employee knowledge, managers will stop asking for more training because “people aren’t applying the stuff we taught them.” Instead, they’ll see the long-term results of training because employees will have the knowledge and confidence they need to do their best work every day.

Be safe. Be well. Be kind to the frontline.


PS – Now that you’ve been forced to recall the information, you won’t forget what you had for dinner last Tuesday for a while. That’s just how memory works! 

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.