By Sue Wigston on September 13, 2016


Anyone who has ever arranged or participated in organizational training has experienced learning decay. Usually, it looks something like this:

  • On the day of the training you are bursting with new knowledge.
  • When you summarize the training to coworkers the following week, you can touch on the key points but many of the details are lost.
  • A month later the vast majority of the information has been forgotten.

The reason for this common experience is learning decay. When no attempts are made to retain new information after it has been taught, the memory fades over time. According to scientist Hermann Ebbinghaus, most people remember only 20% of what they have learned a month after a training session.

There is an important caveat when it comes to learning decay: it only applies when no attempts are made to retain new information. When an organization enters the “commitment zone” with respect to training and implements retention strategies, they decrease the slope of the learning decay curve. In a committed organization, participants retain more information for longer periods of time.

Here’s how to instill organizational commitment to training and retention:

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

What is the objective of organizational training? Your first instinct might be to say, to learn something new. Although this is not totally incorrect, it is an incomplete answer. The objective of organizational training is to impart new knowledge so that individuals can apply it and achieve the desired results.

Let’s take leading meetings as an example. A company has noticed that a lot of meetings are taking place, but not a lot of action being taken. An organizational training event is scheduled with the goal of teaching people how to better run effective and productive meetings so they produce measurable outcomes and clear expectations on tasks. Participants will gain new knowledge about how to craft a clear agenda, processes for running meetings more effectively, techniques for limiting tangents, and assigning and following up on tasks. All of that knowledge has value, but only if it is applied after the training.

Bring in the Reinforcements

How do you ensure that knowledge gained through organizational training is applied? Through reinforcement. Overcoming learning decay requires regular use of new knowledge, not just re-teaching the same concepts. As part of your organizational training strategy, create a plan that goes well beyond the training day by identifying the behavior you want to encourage and determining ways to reinforce it.

For example, after an organizational training session that teaches participants how to lead meetings, reinforcement could happen in a number of ways. You might create a new agenda template that everybody is required to use. Key agenda items such as following up on previous action items and creating new tasks to be completed before the next gathering will be a constant reminder that the objective of the meeting is to elicit action. Another reinforcement method might be to add reporting requirements. If multiple sub-committees meet on a regular basis and periodically convene with a larger group, each sub-committee could be required to describe their list of action items from previous meetings. Because each group is expected to report their action items, they will have to identify them in each meeting.

Measure Your Progress

Measurement is an important component of reinforcement because it demonstrates that behavior is being monitored and it shows when improvements are being made as a result of organizational training. When individuals know that they are more successful because they are applying their new knowledge, they will continue on the desired path. There are a variety of measurement systems and tools you can use; the ones you select will depend on the type of organizational training you have implemented.

In the case of leading meetings, you might monitor the number of tasks that have been assigned and how many of them have been completed. As participants become more adept at clearly defining and assigning tasks with timelines, you will see more decisive action as a result of more effectively run meetings. This measurement system also reinforces the importance of following up after a meeting to ensure that the desired outcomes have been achieved.

No matter what type of organizational training you focus on, it is critical for the company to stay committed to ongoing reinforcement and measurement in order to get the best return on your investment. The more effort you put into combating learning decay and encouraging individuals to apply their new knowledge, the more ingrained it will become.


Sue WigstonAbout the author

Sue, an authority on training and development, has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed training solutions for Eagle’s Flight. As Chief Operating Officer, Sue’s vast senior leadership experience and facilitation has established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert for numerous Fortune 500 companies.



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