Using Simple Tools and Techniques to Reinforce Employee Training

People forget things. I know . . . pretty obvious, right?

From a manager’s perspective, the normal amount of information and learning employees forget poses problems. Organizations spend quite a bit on employee training. According to one substantial industry study, 2015 training industry report, organizations spent over $700 per employee in 2014 on training. Smaller organizations spend more per employee than larger organizations.

It’s hard to imagine another business process or expenditure where so much of the “product” acquired is simply forgotten within a few days or even hours after consumed by employees. Most organizations would spend some real energy to recover that lost investment in training, however, few organizations really understand how to recover the information employees routinely forget.


Behavioral scientists have known about the“forgetting curve” for a long time. The term was first coined by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. According to the research, people forget substantial amounts of what they learn within a short period of time after learning in. Forgetting increases over time, and the chart to the right is an apt illustration of the relationship between forgetting and time. The problem with some of the “thought leadership” in the memory space is that much of the writing treats the normal process of forgetting as essentially uniform. It’s not. The pace and volume of forgetting depends on a range of factors from the difficulty of the material, to the effectiveness of the initial teaching to the importance of the material to the learner. However, one thing the current thought leadership generally agrees upon is that forgetting can be interrupted and learning reinforced.


One of the most important revelations in the emerging research about forgetting is that it’s entirely normal, AND forgetting is an essential part of the long-term learning process. That’s right. Forgetting serves a purpose in longterm learning. The trick for organizations investing in employee training is to tap into the proven methods for reinforcing training lessons and interrupting the forgetting curve, so employees can retain new skills and apply those skills to improve performance.

The great news in all of this is organizations do not need sophisticated technology to reinforce learning and training. In fact, your existing e-mail application is all you really need in terms of technology! You just need to think about using e-mail a bit differently as a “tool” in your employee training arsenal.


The validated neuroscience around human learning tells us that forced recall of information we’ve learned previously is crucial to creating new, permanent memories.  Applied to employee training, this means we need to quiz or “test” employees on training content in the hours and days following the completion of a training course. Here’s an example illustrating how you can use simple e-mail to “force” employees to recall lessons from an online training courses.

  • Assign an online training course or video.
  • Use the existing quiz or job aid aid from the course to craft a question. You can even ask exactly the SAME question from the post course quiz.
  • Copy and paste the question into an e-mail you can send to each employee who completed the course.
  • Send the e-mail the day after each employee finishes the course.
  • Include a link to the course you are reinforcing in your e-mail. Add a note to the employee that if they don’t remember the answer, it’s okay! But encourage them to go back and review the course so that they CAN answer the question.
  • Repeat this process 3 days after the course using a different question, and again one week after the course.
  • After a month, send a note OR ask during a staff meeting for each employee to give an example of how they’ve applied the important lessons from the training to their day-to-day job. Ask for examples of improved performance!

Now, assign a NEW online training course and repeat the process.


The suggestions we’ve offered are based upon the validated science about how people learn. Another crucial element to effective learning and reinforcement is online video. Videos allow employees to learn by observing both positive and sometimes negative examples. We know that 85% of what people remember is visual. Employees can revisit videos, pause them and more easily fit video lessons into an already busy day. And using video for learning reflects the reality that video is the single most accessed type of content on the internet. So, it’s extremely important to use visuals to stimulate learning and retention.


An invaluable resource you have at your disposal are the online courses themselves. The research about how people learn indicates that repeating materials is extremely helpful in reinforcing the lessons. So reassign the courses to employees at regular intervals, such as once a quarter to keep their knowledge and skills sharp. As you engage in the e-mail process to reinforce training, ask new questions. Also, ask employees to explain how re-taking the course helped increase their understanding of the materials and how this increased understanding translates to improved performance.


By using your existing e-mail program and the online training courses you already have, you can easily increase employee learning. It’s not complicated, nor is it hard to do. But you should seriously consider taking the simple steps outlined above to reinforce employee training. As we said, forgetting is normal. But the fact that employees forget should not be a major concern. Instead, look at forgetting as a normal part of learning. The objective should be to reduce the amount of important information employees forget as mush as you can.

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