Use Learning Boosts to Battle the Forgetting Curve in Online Training

February 15, 2016

Use Learning Boosts to Battle the Forgetting Curve in Online Training | SchoolKeep estimates North American companies spent a total of $150.2 billion on corporate training initiatives in 2014, up from $141.7 billion the prior year. That’s quite a testament to the growing importance businesses place on educating all stakeholders, whether customers, clients or channel partners.

Yet most of what learners absorb in those sessions quickly evaporates days and weeks after the instruction. They simply fail to remember what they’ve learned, a disappointing outcome for training organizations and learning management system (LMS) providers that put an enormous amount of time, effort, and expense into creating outstanding courses.

Don’t blame the content or the instructional designers, however. The courses in these cases often are engaging, relevant, and yes, memorable. The problem lies with a long-proven neuroscience concept known as the “forgetting curve.”

What’s the “forgetting curve”?

In the 1880s, German scientist Hermann Ebbinghause first experimented with the “forgetting curve” theory. After memorizing a series of syllables, Ebbinghause then tested himself to see how much he recalled. After an hour, he remembered only 50 percent of what he had memorized. A day later, he had forgotten 70 percent.

Scientific research done since Ebbinghause’s first experiments support his findings. Since our brains cannot hold every bit of information we encounter, we dispose of data we perceive as inconsequential to us and stow the relevant material in our long-term memory.

Of course, a well-conceived online customer or channel partner training program strives to be applicable to the learner in everyday life. So, in theory, all relevant instruction immediately resides in our long-term memory and is therefore easily recalled whenever needed.

Related reading: How to Measure the Success of Your Online Courses with Learning Analytics

Except under the forgetting theory, we oftentimes forget information even if it’s relevant to us. That’s because it’s not enough to merely attempt to slip data into learners’ long-term memory. Learners must practice retrieving that information, and that’s why learning boosts are an important part of any customer or channel partner training program.

What’s a learning boost?

A learning boost typically takes place at a short interval — several days or a week — after the main instructional event presented. For example, learners could receive an email with a brief quiz on the material. Or the learning boost can be a question to which the learner provides a brief answer.

Whatever form the learning boost takes, it serves two purposes: It reinforces the relevance and importance of the instruction delivered (thus strengthening its place in long-term memory) and gives the learner the opportunity to retrieve and then utilize the information.

Getting the results of the learning boosts provides valuable feedback on the effectiveness of the learning program as well. The answers indicate which learners may need extra instruction and in what areas.

Make learning boosts part of your LMS

In order for an LMS to support learning boosts, it needs to have this native functionality or be integrated with a marketing automation tool, like

Marketing technology is typically used for email nurturing campaigns related to sales or promotion. But when it is integrated with an LMS, a school administrator can use it to keep learners engaged and to improve positive learning outcomes by sending "boosts" at timed intervals -- even after a course is completed.

Related reading: Choosing a New LMS for Your Growing Customer Training Program

The learning boosts can be timed at planned intervals during and after the instruction, based on the learner’s progress through the program.

In a sense, learning boosts double as a great lead nurturing tool for your training program. These boosts emphasize your commitment to ensuring learners retain the instruction, which strengthens your position as your customer’s go-to resource for training. In turn, they’ll purchase more training programs and provide more referrals.

How many learning boosts?

Experts debate how soon after the instruction you should send out the learning boost, or how often.

Educational researchers have found that giving several pop quizzes —the classroom equivalent of a learning boost — after a short period of instruction works best. If students know they will be tested on the content more often, instead of one major test at the end of the entire course, they tend to study the material more frequently. Again, that helps with retention as well as the reinforcement of the material’s importance.

More important than the timing and structure of the learning boost is the consistent integration of the learning boosts into the training program so learners can overcome the forgetting curve.

As noted learning expert Art Kohn says, “What is clear is that doing anything, providing any sort of booster experience, is dramatically better than doing nothing at all.”



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