Remember when we talked about metrics and benchmarks? You don’t? Do you remember what we said about how onboarding should contain a variety of modalities?

I get it, you read them and moved on. But what if you really needed to retain the information about metrics (and you do!) and why they are important? How much more would you remember right now if you had gotten perhaps one email per week that reminded you of some aspect of that article? What if you received a text that linked to additional resources or even better, an internal space where you can access the information on-demand?

Did you know that people forget about 50% of information presented to them in the first hour; an average of 90% within a week? (Learning Guild, 2014)

I would even hypothesize that under the stress of the label “New Employee” that the stats are worse for these audiences. This is especially true if your program tries to cram every last bit of information into the new person’s brain in a day or a week.

So, how do you fix it?

Well, you can’t really “fix” it. It is brain science. That is a whole bunch of other articles and books.

You can, however, plan for all the forgetting and find ways to keep important information in your learners’ brains as long as possible. This is where all that variety we talked about comes into play, as well as mentors or onboarding buddies.

Repetition! It’s not just for kids

Did you know that 80% of workers report it’s important to receive regular, frequent training so they don’t forget the information? (Axonify, 2018)

When you hear about teaching kids, you hear a lot of repetition, repetition, repetition. This is because kids are different than adults. They typically don’t have a lot of pre-existing information or knowledge. So, there is a lot more memorization and learning-by-repetition.

For adults in the workforce who are most likely being taught a new work task, the key to really catching on is immediate application of what they learned. Whether this is through practice labs or on-the-job—use it or lose it is real.

So, if the learners know they are going to forget—and we all know they are going to forget—then why aren’t we doing something about it?

Pro tips for maximum remembering

Timing. One of the things we talk about constantly in this business is timing of training. If you train someone on a task that they are not going to be expected to do for two years, training them on it the first week is a huge waste of resources. And this is not just about onboarding, this applies to any job. If your adult learner is not going to be performing the expected task within a few days of training, you are probably going to have to retrain them when they do encounter this task.

KISS. Keep It Simple, Silly. Just as timing impacts transfer, so too does the amount of information you pile on a newcomer. Downloading the entire company SharePoint into a newbie’s brain in the first couple of days is not going to do it. Chunked, targeted learning options that are accessible on-demand are a great way to not just provide the first iteration of the information, they also provide a great chance for learners to go back when they need it.

Reinforcement. Also known as spaced repetition in some circles, is a resource you can count on when applied with thought and planning. These are thoughtfully scheduled opportunities to call out specific important points, locations of resources, or other information that offers a reminder to a learner about a specific task they learned.

Reinforcement for reinforcement

STOP. Do not create a group chat and start sending out random pieces of info.

Reinforcement, like all other things in effective learning, requires some planning. All the things that apply to increasing retention (timing, KISS) also apply here. Reinforcement should not become noise.

Add reinforcement to your analysis overall and your task-level inquiries. Ask some of these questions:

  • How difficult is the task?’
  • How important is this task?
  • How often does the learner perform it on the job?

Do you recognize the DIF Model? Difficulty. Importance. Frequency. Each one has criteria for ranking it high and low, and for a couple there is a “medium” choice. Now, the step-by-step way to do this is to look at every learning objective and ask these three questions of your SMEs. There is a matrix that shows you when the answers to these three questions are answered, you will have an idea of the “DIF” of that task. It will be either high, medium, or low.

Any task that is ranked as highly difficult and not completed frequently needs more training. Read it again. It is awkward but true.

Remember repetition from earlier in the article? If someone takes new skills back to their desk from training and immediately starts performing a task that they are going to be doing daily–they are reinforcing what they just learned without any help from you. The best thing you can reinforce for your people in this instance is reminders of where to find help or resources if they need it.

But what about the tasks that are done monthly? Quarterly? Annually? These are great things to reinforce. In these instances, timing of the reinforcement event is key.

For example, if annual reports are due January 15 and you know people always wait until December to start them, release reinforcement events throughout the month of December. These will not only reinforce the info, but it also works as a reminder. (We love a two-fer!)


Want to find out if existing programs need reinforcement? If you set up metrics, you should have some data that indicates pain points. Not gathering metrics? Talk to supervisors, talk to learners, look at any performance reports, etc., you can find. Maybe a new training module rolled out for a specific task a few months ago, but everyone seems to mess up step 5 of the process. Make a quick refresher video. You don’t need high-production or fancy interactions. Make it part of the reinforcement schedule.

There are lots of ways to approach reinforcement activities. Talk to your LMS people. Find out what you can and cannot do with the technology. Automate things that can be automated. Only reinforce things that REALLY need it. You have heard or seen the phrase: “If everything is important, nothing is important.” Failure to plan what reinforcement looks like can result in a whole lot of nothing.