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3 Ways to Increase Knowledge Retention and Drive Behavioral Change


Fri Jul 28 2023

3 Ways to Increase Knowledge Retention and Drive Behavioral Change

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In 2021, organizations spent nearly $1,300 per employee on training and development, according to Statista. However, many development programs rely on lecture-based, single-session learning. Without reviewing or applying the information learned, participants will likely forget 75 percent of the information learned, based on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. Translating that to dollars, this training method wastes up to $975 per employee.

To maximize return on investment (ROI) and ensure knowledge retention, learning and development programs should be efficient, effective, and engaging.


Make Learning Efficient

In addition to the cost, training requires a large commitment of time. Companies dedicate an average of 62.4 hours per employee to training, according to the 2022 Training Industry Report. Creating efficient L&D programs can help ensure this time is spent effectively.

While there is no consensus on the length of the average adult’s attention span, research has shown that shorter intervals of learning spaced apart lead to greater knowledge retention. Consider scheduling multiple training sessions and limiting their duration to 20 minutes.

Working within a 20-minute timeframe requires limiting content. While cutting content may seem counterintuitive, condensing the amount of information within a training session can be beneficial. For information to be stored in long-term memory, it must first be stored in short-term memory. Short-term memory can only retain an average of 7 pieces of information at a time. Therefore, distilling training content into its key points makes it more likely to be retained.

Make Learning Effective

Applying new knowledge, skills, or concepts helps encode information into long-term memory. The more practical training is, the more likely employees will apply what they learn. Programs should not only focus on information employees need to know or the skills they must learn but also how they will apply these in their day-to-day work.

Programs should also be contextual to the organization and the employee’s role. For example, what may work for the sales department may not work for the financial department and vice versa. Contextualizing content makes it more relatable for the learner and more memorable.


Embedding learning within the flow of work also increases knowledge retention by meeting employees where they are. Incorporating ongoing microlearning activities helps employees absorb and recall concepts. “Think about learning as a momentum,” said Iyad Uakoub, senior director of behavioral science at Sounding Board. “Learning should not be an event but a commitment.”

Make Learning Engaging

When our brains are challenged, they are more engaged. According to a 2019 study published in Nature Communications, in an optimal training environment, participants achieve accuracy around 85 percent of the time. In other words, humans learn best when they fail 15 percent of the time. To increase knowledge retention, an L&D program must include the opportunity to fail. Further, difficulty should increase gradually throughout the program as more knowledge is gained.

The brain becomes more engaged when several aspects are activated. Effective L&D programs engage participants’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They incorporate knowledge, stories, and activities to create greater mental engagement.

Aim for Behavioral Change, Not Just Knowledge Retention

Too often, when evaluating L&D programs using the Kirkpatrick Model, organizations stop at the learning level. However, two levels remain—behavior and results. To achieve the results organizations desire, they must address behavioral change.

Behavioral change happens when motivation, ability, and prompts come together, according to the Fogg Behavior Model. The relationship between the three can be visualized on an axis. The higher the motivation and the greater the ability to act, the more likely someone will do so when prompted. Successful L&D programs will not only increase employees’ abilities but also their motivations, leading to appropriate behavioral change.


Group coaching, an immersive development experience in which leaders draw on one another’s skills, perspectives, and knowledge, can help drive motivation within L&D programs. Participants develop a sense of accountability to one another, increasing their motivation to enact behavioral change.

Adopting an efficient, effective, and engaging approach will help increase knowledge retention and ensure ROI for L&D. Increasing motivation and empowering behavioral change take L&D programs further by driving organizational impact.

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