Using Brain Science to Create Memory that Lasts
In January 2014, I authored an article in Learning Solutions Magazine online about measuring learning outcomes in a cost effective and meaningful way that can enable strategic decisions in the enterprise. The article also discussed creating the kind of learning that should be analyzed against business performance: because it’s effective for helping employees improve their knowledge and job performance for the long term.
Not surprisingly, readers were interested in the learning techniques I discussed that lead to more impactful corporate learning.
Improving job performance starts with improving employee knowledge. What’s critical is that knowledge can be fleeting—research has proven that as much as 90% of information learned in a training session can be forgotten in a month. Human beings do what they remember, so the challenge is to help our employees keep that 90% of their knowledge, so they can effectively apply it to the job.
Luckily, modern brain science research has helped us establish highly effective techniques for improving knowledge retention, such as retrieval practice and the spacing effect.
Also known as the “testing effect”, retrieval practice is the systematic retrieving of information from memory, such as when we have to recall the answer to a series of questions.
Research on the spacing effect shows that information is better retained for the long term when it is presented repeatedly with specific time gaps between each repetition. This is the opposite of cramming, which involves studying large amounts of data continuously over a short time period—which is also a lot like our current corporate training methods.
So how do we implement this?
Axonify is a solution that delivers short training bursts each day to employees: typically 3 – 4 questions with answers, which takes less than 5 minutes per day. Our proprietary algorithm uses repeated retrieval and the spacing effect, in conjunction with some sophisticated customization and personalization, to deliver the right level of knowledge on the most critical topic, just when the employee needs it most.
When an employee is first configured in Axonify, a learning plan is customized based on job function, department, critical topics and other flexible criteria. During the first few learning sessions, our system is evaluating the employee’s answers, and identifying knowledge gaps in the specified topics, creating a Personalized Knowledge Map.
As the employee continues to participate in daily learning sessions, the Personalized Knowledge Map adapts, moving the learner through progressively more difficult questions towards subject mastery. Once the required topic knowledge level has been met (say correct answers 80% or 90% of the time), the learner will be “graduated” and continue to receive questions on the topic, but less and less frequently, keeping the information top of mind for the long term.
Our system tracks all employee activity, which allows us to identify individual knowledge levels on each topic at any point in time, as well as how many times an employee receives a topic question before being graduated out of that topic. It also allows us to identify how confident employees are in their knowledge, which can also point to areas where more attention needs to be paid.
We can view metrics on an individual basis, or can see how individual departments are doing, and which topics they are strongest in. With a wealth of information coming out of our system, it’s easy to correlate improvements in knowledge with improvements in key performance indicators, such as meeting sales quota’s, reduced injuries, higher customer satisfaction ratings and more.
To successfully implement these techniques for truly successful learning, there are a few things that need to be in place:
- Short, daily sessions of 4 to 5 questions with answers.
- Progressive movement along a personalized learning path that acknowledges success, and delivers increasingly more difficult questions until subject mastery is achieved.
- Continuous reinforcement of a subject at increasingly wider time intervals.
- Comprehensive metrics that can correlate learning success to job performance.