When educators speak of sustainment of learning, they refer to the act of maintenance or upkeep of the training that they have invested so much in. Even if you are one of those companies that invest in high-quality employee education, the truth is that even the most eager learners are bound to forget part of their training as time passes.

It’s not that your employees are doing this on purpose; it’s just that their brains perform unconscious housekeeping of memories that don’t appear immediately useful. You might even say that people have evolved to forget in order to make room for the most important, relevant information. As a result, we’re not always equally likely to remember information without some help along the way.

How to Fight the Forgetting Curve and Sustain Learning

Without reinforcement, most training provides businesses with fairly poor returns. This is due to what researchers call the “Forgetting Curve.”

According to the research cited:

  • People forget 50 percent of what they’ve learned in a classroom within one hour.
  • By the time 24 hours have passed, an average student will have forgotten 70 percent of what they’ve learned.

If employee learning were a different type of investment, this kind of ROI would be an unsatisfactory outcome for most managers.

The fact that employees forget most of what they learn during their initial training doesn’t mean the training is not of high enough quality; it just means that this one instance of training was not enough.

Creating an Organization of Learning Sustainment

One doesn’t learn to ride a bike by watching somebody else do it; you learn by practicing. Once learned, you’ll never forget the movements necessary to keep that bike going. Similarly, practicing what was learned in the initial training will lead to long term sustainment in the corporate environment. Keeping this in mind, you’ll find there are a number of intuitive and effective ways your organization can improve retention.

With the following five pieces of advice, you’ll be off to a good start creating an environment that fosters learning sustainment:

  • Make your organization learning-friendly: Your company might already have hired motivated learners, but they are not encouraged to do it yet. Reinforcement from the management level by acknowledging and personal and career benefits of following additional training helps set a learning-friendly environment.
  • Deliver convenient learning: Make sure the company offers convenient, high-quality learning. Solutions might include digital learning programs that employees can access at any time, anywhere, and from a number of different devices.
  • Support the application of training to real work: The sooner employees get a chance to apply what they’ve learned to actual work situations, the more likely they are to remember it. Supplying periodic coaching to help improve retention and comprehension is also a good way to reinforce this.
  • Memorialize the learning: By embedding lessons into the corporate culture and organizational policies, companies can ensure they are taken to heart and remembered. Companies can also improve retention by offering just-in-time learning tools for initial training and refresher courses.
  • Encourage supportive teams of peer networks: These can help increase sustainment. For instance, managers from different departments may have taken similar leadership courses. It helps if the company encourages these managers to meet to discuss experiences with what they have learned. This could be accomplished in person or even through online forums or chat sessions. When these employees share stories about their success or failures with particular lessons, they can help refine their own application of knowledge and also help others in turn.

So, Why Invest in Learning Sustainment?

Investing in Learning Sustainment is critical to ensure time, effort, and money invested in the initial training do not go to waste. Ultimately, having a workforce that was trained well, and also retains well, will add value to the business surpassing the training costs. A possible low ROI of employee development programs at this time is unlikely to stem from your employees being more forgetful than in other companies, it just means sustainment and retention can be improved.

With the appropriate level and timing of reinforcement, you can easily enable your learners to remember more than the average 30 percent of what they’ve learned. Organizations can improve sustainment by letting employees know that they value learning, offering their people the best tools at the right time, and facilitating learners by giving them a chance to practice and discuss what they learned. Ultimately, this is how you can ensure better returns on organizational investment in employee development.