10 tips for improving retention with online learning

If you’re responsible for delivering training to hundreds of employees, you’ll know about the importance of knowledge retention. Well, pretend you’re not for a minute and look at the issue as a learner might.

Remember what it was like trying to learn something new? Was it a thrilling journey full of twists and turns? Or, was it something that happened at a training seminar in some god-forgotten conference centre? Can you recall the training or do you vaguely remember that the canteen messed up your sandwich order during lunch?

Maybe you submitted a written assignment. By the time you got any feedback, you’d probably forgotten what the assignment was even about. Learning is pretty hard work, but it’s even harder when well-meaning L&D departments shove lack-lustre training in front of you.

Improving Knowledge Retention in Learning

In the days before the internet, training managers didn’t have much to work with. Their only tools were classroom sessions, hilariously bad VHS training and manuals that everyone said that they’d read. It’s the future now, and there’s a universe of tools to help learners retain more of what they’re taught. Here are 10 tips on how to use these tools to boost knowledge retention.

1. Build a solid foundation

Learning isn’t something that happens on a unit-by-unit or a test-by-test basis. Think of the entire learning programme as one machine that’s designed to create model employees. To do this, the programme needs to align with the vision and values of the organisation on every level.

Consistent branding improves knowledge retention with over-arching lessons about the organisation and where the learners fit in the puzzle.

2. Tell Your Story

People remember stories more effectively than facts. There are several ways to take advantage of this. You can seek inspiration for your story in the colourful history of the organisation. If you’re not blessed with an inspiring backstory, just make something up. Tell the story of the biggest challenge in your business and give your learners leading roles.

3. Make it Relevant

Once you’ve built your vision and values into the DNA of your training programme, things get easier. You can now ensure that you’re delivering the same message across the board. The next thing you need to do is to make it relevant for the individual employees.

Create personalised learning pathways for each department. This way, you don’t clog learners’ brains with training materials they don’t need for their role. This gives improves knowledge retention in all the essential area.

4. Make it personal

A lot of training is ineffective because it doesn’t provide any context for the individual learner. Make sure you provide exercises throughout the training that let learners reflect on their own experiences. Tying the learning objective to the knowledge they already have shown the learners how one relates to the other. This alone makes it easier to remember.

5. Keep it Short

It doesn’t matter how well your learning materials have been created. If it’s too long, your learners will lose focus and it won’t be as effective. Research by Dianne Dukette and David Cornish (2009) suggests that the maximum attention span for learning is 20 minutes. A bite-size learning approach lets you keep each unit of training below this threshold.

6. Keep it Frequent

You can push shorter learning objects to your learners on a more regular basis with a learning campaign. This approach has been hugely successful for companies like Duolingo. Their language training app lets users learn on any device, wherever they are, in short bursts.

Studies have shown that this approach can have a huge impact on knowledge retention. Students reach a competent level nearly four times faster than by using traditional classroom methods.

7. Don’t rely solely on Formal Training

Only 10% of what we pick up at work comes from manuals or eLearning units. The rest we get from practice, experience and interact with our colleagues. This informal learning has traditionally slipped below the radar.

Now, the rise of social media unlocks ways to encourage this kind of peer learning. Learning managers can create online discussion groups in LinkedIn and encourage learners to contribute. A social learning platform lets you create a more private network. Here, you can incorporate informal learning activities into the training programme.

8. Try a blended learning approach

Classroom training exercises will still have their place, but there’s always room for improvement. Take advantage of the fact that most of the students will have a mobile device of some kind. Use this technology to add interactive elements into blended learning.

Online survey apps can help trainers get a better feel for their audience and tailor the training to suit them. You can invite the students to an online discussion group, letting them expand on points and add their perspective.

9. Make a game of it

When learners are more engaged with their training, they’re better able to retain the information. Gamification is the process of adding game mechanics to non-game activities. Its success has made it a standard feature of most modern applications.

Gamified learning platforms encourage repeat visits and learner-led training. Both of these are essential for successful knowledge retention.

10. Mix it up

Boredom is the enemy of engagement and a boring training programme is doomed to failure. Make sure you provide a good variety of assets and tasks within the programme to stop it from becoming repetitive. For example, it’s easy to fall into the routine of pushing multiple-choice assessments to gauge the learning’s effectiveness.

Try a written assignment instead, or ask the learners to share a relevant article. Not only does this keep the programme interesting, but it lets learners find a learning style that works best for them.

In short, if you want to improve knowledge retention in your training, don’t bore your learners. Always ask yourself if a particular piece of content is engaging enough to hold the learners’ attention. Give them something that they can identify with and that creates lots of opportunities for interaction and you can’t go wrong!

Like What You're Reading? Join the Growth Squad!

Subscribe now to receive exclusive access to our weekly newsletter. It’s packed full of the best L&D research, analysis and downloadable resources.

Like What You're Reading? Join the Growth Squad!

Subscribe now to receive exclusive access to our weekly newsletter. It’s packed full of the best L&D research, analysis and downloadable resources.


Unlock The World’s Most Impactful L&D Resources!

Our unrivalled treasure trove of white papers, research, tip sheets, infographics and more gives you all the L&D knowledge you need to start making an impact today. Happy exploring!

We are always working to improve your experience on our website. Part of this involves using cookies to collect data for statistics and personalization. Further information can be found in our Privacy Policy and Cookies Policy.