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Retention of What Is Learned

The goal of training goes beyond ensuring that the trainee learns the task or material being presented. It is equally important that newly learned material is retained. Three additional issues that influence retention are the meaningfulness of material, the degree of original learning, and interference.

The meaningfulness of material is the extent to which it is rich in associa- tions for the individual learner. For example, a new way of soldering circuits might be quite significant to an electronics enthusiast, yet absolutely meaningless to a professional athlete or hair stylist.

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Simply put, the more meaningful factual material is, the easier it is to learn and remember.For example, college humanities students were asked to rate the meaningfulness of three Bible passages. Later in that same period, they were given a pop quiz, and asked to recall as much of each passage as possible. For two of the three readings, greater meaningfulness significantly related to greater recall of the content of the passages.68 In general, then, training should be designed to be more meaningful to employees to encourage learning retention. Overviews of topics at the beginning of training sessions can help trainees understand the course content as a whole. Using examples and terminology familiar to trainees and mnemonic devices (such as creating a word out of the first letters of items in a list) also increase meaningfulness by providing more associations.

The degree of original learning also influences learning retention.The more effectively information is initially learned, the more likely it will be retained—after all, you can’t retain something you never had to begin with. Though this is not surprising, it does reinforce the research on overlearning, massed versus spaced practice, and whole versus part learning as ways to ensure initial learning.

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