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Mind the gap

Despite its immense capabilities, the brain still requires time to absorb learning materials, process this information, consolidate everything consumed, and build neural pathways to other related concepts.

By employing spaced repetition, the brain is given the time it needs to embed information or knowledge deep within the long-term memory.  We learn new things more effectively when they are spaced out and repeated over time. In 1885, Herman Ebbinghaus pioneered the experimental study of memory and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and spacing effect. His conclusions were simple – the best way to learn is to be reminded of something right before you are due to forget it. After being exposed to new knowledge for the first time, subsequent revision and testing of that knowledge must be carried out at specific intervals for the best knowledge retention. Too soon after the initial learning and revision is a waste of time, but left too long afterwards and the information is forgotten and needs to be relearned. The most effective training therefore is the type which is reinforced regularly and helps to really embed knowledge in the brain.

What finally emerged was what we now know as the ‘learning curve’ – the notion that it is possible to improve learning by correctly spacing practice sessions. Training systems built on spaced repetition are able to predict the future state of a learner’s memory and schedule information reviews at the optimum times. Frank Dempster called it “one of the most remarkable phenomena to emerge from laboratory research on learning” (1988). 

But how can spaced repetition work from a business perspective?  Looking at today’s workforce and challenges faced by employers, a ‘fix-all’ approach is no longer recognised as the most effective way to train staff. Whilst classroom training still has a role, the benefits of personalised learning and development are very much evident, and more importantly effective. Accessing information at an employee’s chosen time on their chosen device empowers the learner and gives them bespoke training at their fingertips. 

The move to ‘moment of need’ training can be met with cloud based applications facilitating the ability to update content quickly and efficiently without necessitating classroom training. In turn it also gives employers access to data which gives them an insight into their employee’s engagement and whether training has been worthwhile.    

Gone are the ‘good old’ days when staff training was delivered in cold and lifeless conference suites, with less than perfect coffee and an over reliance on flip charts, boring PowerPoints and uninspiring teachers. In these situations, it can mean that the word learners engaged with the most on the day’s timetable was FINISH. 

For many, and all too often, training and learning in work was something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Organisations and companies now recognise the need for a better return on investment and to enhance bottom-line impact through behavioural change. A change in corporate training demographics and the ongoing development of new technologies have thankfully cast the old model to the history books, in favour of faster, better, more fully engaged, and more cost effective methods of knowledge provision. Gone is the concept of ‘post-training’, the follow-through period where ideas reach implementation once the training has been completed. In fact, gone is the concept of the training being completed in the first place. New innovations, placing spaced repetition at the heart of e-learning, provide the opportunity for training to be ongoing and consistent. 

Learning is no longer an environment for employees to step in and out of as and when management decide it to be appropriate. On the contrary, learning is full time, the workplace is the classroom, and the opportunity for personal and professional development becomes the lesson. Technology is unlocking new ways of training which combine clever science to help staff retain knowledge.The word FINISH at the bottom of the page is no more – there simply isn’t a finish, just continual bite-sized learning.

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