What’s Your Refresh Learning Strategy?

Single-event training doesn’t work.

By Dan Cooper, CEO, ej4.com

Ask a training professional about a certain skill set for employees and you’ll often hear something like, “Oh, we trained them on that two years ago.” The built-in assumption is, once you train employees on a topic, they’ve mastered it forever.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch two weeks ago, much less some course I sat through two years ago. I’m lucky if I can even recall going to the program. “Have I attended Advanced Advancing II? Uh, I think so. I’d have to go sort through my binder collection to know for sure.”

Thank goodness the medical community doesn’t take this approach. It would be just my luck to have a heart attack and get rescuers who had CPR training 10 years ago, or who had been hired after the CPR training event was held. When they blow on my chest and push on my face because they’d forgotten what to do, I’m a goner.

A basic rule of training is:

Single-event training doesn’t work.

Why? The reality of retention is that we remember little or nothing of what we encounter daily—with two exceptions. We remember vivid events that immediately imprint on us, such as intense emotions or startling scenes. And we remember what is kept alive in memory though repetition. This second one is a critical factor for training professionals and leads to an important question:

“What is your refresh learning strategy?”

This is guaranteed to generate a blank look from most trainers. In most organizations, training is a single event, one and done. Contrast this with the medical community, where mastery of a skill is life or death. For example, every medical professional is required to take a CPR review course annually. These trainers understand the retention issue.

You can’t expect your learners to remember the six buying influences or the five-step conflict management process after seeing them once and never hearing them mentioned again. There needs to be a training vehicle to remind them of what they learned and reinforce its usage on the job.

In fact, given a limited budget, I can make a strong argument from a learning research standpoint that it would be more effective to eliminate all the single-event training and focus on providing the refresh learning. You’ll get better results because employees actually would retain something.

Look through your current program titles. How many are focused on renewing critical skills that already have been taught? These should be short-form versions of the original content. Do you have titles such as “Review of No-Push Selling” or “Process Improvement Team Skills for Experienced Team Members,” and so on? If you don’t, then that’s an indicator you don’t have a refresh learning strategy in place.

Remember, single-event learning alone doesn’t work. It also requires refresh learning. (Note to Editor: We should run this article again next year.)

Editor’s response: You’re absolutely right!

Dan Cooper is CEO of ej4.com. Fast 4ward your learning—find out more at http://www.ej4.com.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.