December 2023
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TD Magazine

Create Drip Feeds to Revolutionize Learning Retention

Friday, December 1, 2023

Know the benefits of delivering this type of spaced learning and the technology tools needed.

With only 1 percent of an employee’s workweek dedicated to professional growth and development, according to Bersin by Deloitte’s “The Modern Learner,” the struggle is real regarding reinforcing the exchange of skills or knowledge with a distracted workforce.


Addressing the challenge of the widening skills gap requires L&D to consider different approaches to learning delivery. Spaced learning involves reviewing knowledge at intervals, therefore enhancing retention and application. The technique—backed by research in Medical Education's "Spaced Education Improves the Retention of Clinical Knowledge by Medical Students"—is crucial to the learning encoding process, giving people the necessary time to process information effectively.

Spreading out learning sessions helps learners to retain information much better than cramming it all in a short span, reveals the Psychology Bulletin article "Distributed Practice in Verbal Recall Tasks." Essentially, spaced learning is about allowing learners to pace themselves to get the most out of development time.

But how does that tie into the learning encoding process? Encoding transforms new information into a format storable by the brain.

Drip feeding—a method of delivering learning lessons in broken-up and timed increments—reinforces the concept of spaced learning and increases the likelihood of knowledge retention and application. When someone encounters new knowledge, their brain forms delicate neural connections. Using spaced learning techniques with drip-feeding delivery enables those connections to strengthen over time.

In short, spaced learning is the science of learning in intervals, and the drip feed is the delivery method that supports the science.

How spaced and drip-feed learning interplay

Imagine taking an online course that supports drip feeding, the topic being the 50 state capitals in the US. Instead of giving you access to all the content at once, the course uses a drip-feed learning approach combined with spaced learning principles.

On day one, you receive an email with a link to a lesson covering the capitals of the first 10 states. You study them, create online flip cards, take a short quiz, and then go about your day.

On the second day, before introducing the next set of capitals, the course sends you a knowledge check on the previous day's content to reinforce your memory. Once you complete the review, you get access to the next lesson that covers another 10 state capitals. That pattern continues throughout the week. By the end of the course, you not only have learned all 50 state capitals but have also had multiple opportunities to review and reinforce your knowledge.

By spacing out the content and combining it with periodic reviews, the drip-feed method ensures learners are not overwhelmed with information. It also leverages the benefits of spaced learning, allowing the brain time to process and consolidate the information, which leads to better retention and understanding.

Incorporating drip feeds into spaced learning efforts

Delivering content in manageable increments over time enables L&D professionals to harness the brain's natural ability to absorb information, ensuring learners grasp and retain the knowledge shared. Drip feeding can reinforce spaced learning efforts in several ways.

Consistent exposure. For learners, it's like receiving a fresh chapter of a book each week, keeping them engaged with the latest batch of information.

Avoids content overload. Well-designed drip feeding breaks complex topics into digestible chunks, enabling learners to fully grasp a topic in small bites before introducing new content.

Reinforces previous learning. New lessons can briefly recap or reference previous lessons, reinforcing that material and strengthening neural connections.

Enables flexibility and ownership. Drip feeding enables learners to engage with content at their own pace; they can revisit past lessons to ensure they're secure in their knowledge before heading to the next lesson.

Supports enhanced engagement. Receiving content in a drip-feed manner can build learners' curiosity and motivation. The process gets people excited to dive deeper into what they're learning and builds anticipation for the next big reveal.

Using technology to apply spaced learning methods

Technology plays an important role in supporting the impact of drip-feed learning. Platforms such as chatbots, blogging spaces, and email lessons deliver content in digestible chunks that make drip feeding so effective. Moreover, collaborative spaces such as Slack or Microsoft Teams add a deeper community dimension.

Chatbots. Chatbots can engage learners with quizzes, flash cards, games, and instant feedback, making the learning experience more interactive. Further, based on user responses, chatbots can guide learners through tailored content paths, addressing learners' individual needs. Chatbots also can provide instant feedback on user inputs, which enables learners to understand and correct mistakes immediately. If a learner is struggling with a particular concept, the chatbot can support additional resources or explanations on the spot.

Use case: Onboarding new employees. A large, US-based corporation uses a chatbot to introduce new employees to its diverse company culture. Given the company's nationwide presence, new hires understanding regional nuances and company values is essential.

During the first few weeks, the chatbot sends daily messages that introduce employees to regional practices, company events specific to certain states, and stories of collaboration among different offices. The chatbot also hosts regional quizzes that help staff understand and appreciate the rich tapestry of cultures within the US. If an employee is interested in more information, they can access additional resources or connect with an ambassador via the chatbot.

Blogging spaces. Blogging platforms can host lessons that learners can revisit anytime, allowing for review and reinforcement. The comment sections foster a sense of community by enabling learners to discuss topics, ask questions, and share insights and resources. In addition, multimedia integration is possible; blogs can incorporate videos, infographics, and podcasts, creating more interesting content.

Use case: Leadership development. A company's leadership academy creates a blogging space dedicated to nurturing leadership skills. Every week, business leaders and frontline managers contribute articles on leadership strategies, team dynamics, and emotional intelligence. Academy members dive into the articles, share their thoughts, and start discussions or debates. The interactive space offers members a wealth of knowledge, exposes them to a variety of viewpoints on leadership, enriches their understanding, and prepares them for future roles.

Email lessons. The ubiquity of email from various devices means that learners can access content anytime, anywhere, without needing to install additional apps or software. Further, learners can read and revisit the content at their convenience, making lessons adaptable to individual schedules. Emails can include additional resources and worksheets via attachments, as well as links to further reading, all of which enrich the learning experience.

Use case: Finance for nonfinance positions. A business launches a "Finance for Nonfinance Roles" initiative aimed at equipping nonfinance employees with basic financial understanding. Participants receive weekly email lessons over four months, covering topics such as budgeting, understanding financial statements, capital allocation, and return-on-investment calculations. Each email features user-friendly graphics, relatable workplace examples, and actionable insights.

At the end of each month, participants get a short review to assess knowledge and a feedback form to share their learning experience. Such a drip-feed approach ensures individuals steadily build their financial acumen.

Collaborative spaces. These platforms facilitate instant communication, enabling learners to foster community learning by discussing topics, asking questions, and sharing experiences in real time. In addition, learners can host group projects, challenges, or discussions, as well as easily share useful articles, videos, or other tools with peers, building a shared resource library.

Use case: Remote action learning. A program for high potentials uses Slack for a hypothetical product development project. The team receives a written scenario plus periodic drips of information, including project updates, design mock-ups, and marketing challenges. Program developers set up channels for different project components, allowing for focused discussions. Team members share resources, troubleshoot issues, and brainstorm solutions in real time, creating a project and launch plan. Facilitators ensure everyone stays aligned, engaged, and informed throughout the project's duration.

A blueprint for drip feeds

To initiate drip-feed learning, consider the following components.

Stakeholder collaboration. Engage with relevant departments, such as the product team, marketing, and customer support, to gather comprehensive information and insights. That ensures alignment with strategic business goals.

Purpose definition. Clearly articulate the one primary aim of the drip-feed learning initiative.

Content scope. Determine the breadth and depth of content required. What is the need-to-know information? For example, for an initiative whose purpose is to prepare the sales team for a new product launch, the content scope would entail key areas such as product features, benefits, target audience, and potential objections.

Content delivery. Successful drip-feed learning via email delivery or blogging spaces requires out-of-the-box construction strategies to ensure the content is engaging, relatable, and resonates with learners.

  • Microstorytelling: Instead of lengthy case studies or scenarios, use microstories that unfold over several lessons.
  • Interactivity: Quick, interactive elements such as polls, quizzes, or reflection prompts can serve as immediate feedback mechanisms and keep learners engaged.
  • Personalized content paths: Allow learners to choose their content path based on their interests or needs. For instance, offer two or three directions for the next topic after a lesson.
  • Community engagement: Encourage discussions or peer interactions after each content drip. Facilitate conversations through chat groups where learners can discuss the day's lesson, share insights, or ask questions.
  • Gamification: Incorporating elements such as badges, points, or leaderboards throughout the drip motivates learners to continue the journey and engage with each new content piece.
  • Teasers and previews: At the end of each lesson, provide a teaser or preview of the next topic to create anticipation and ensure learners return for the next drip.
  • Real-world application challenges: After certain stages, challenge learners to apply what they have learned in their real-world context. That will reinforce the learning and provide a practical element to the drip-feed approach.

Delivering drip-feed content with a conversational style can make even the most complex or boring topics feel more approachable—draw in learners with questions, relatable stories, and examples.

Timeline. Set a clear timeline for the drip-feed learning process, deciding on the start date, frequency of lessons, and duration of the entire program. While there is no magic formula to determining frequency and duration, keep in mind the learning content and context to guide your way.

To help keep the content as long as necessary and as short as possible, first ensure that every piece of content directly aligns with the desired learning outcomes. Doing so helps to eliminate any extraneous or bloated information that doesn't serve the primary outcome.

Also consider the content's complexity. More complex topics may require longer durations for comprehension and may be best spaced out more generously to allow for learner processing and application. In contrast, you can deliver simpler topics more frequently in shorter bursts.

Note that platform limitations may affect the frequency and duration of a drip-feed initiative. For instance, email platforms may be better suited for shorter, text-based lessons, while a dedicated learning management system may accommodate longer, multimedia-rich content such as blog pages.

If all else fails, ask. Regularly solicit feedback from learners about the pacing. Are they feeling overwhelmed or underchallenged? Use their feedback to adjust the frequency and duration as the course progresses.

Successful drip feeding is not just about providing interesting and relevant content; it's about how you deliver that content. As L&D professionals, our mission is to equip learners for success—and with drip-feed learning, we're poised to do just that, one bite-size lesson at a time.

Drip Feeding With a Chatbot

If using a chatbot, ensure people are well informed, engaged, and receptive to the chatbot's drip-feed content delivery. Begin by defining the initiative's primary goals. Whether it's to educate, inform, or engage, having clear objectives will shape the communication strategy and messaging.

As with any new tool or process, communicate to stakeholders the benefits and purpose of the chatbot. Offer support and resources to help users adapt to this new mode of interaction. For example, provide clear instructions on how to interact with the chatbot, ensuring users can navigate and use the drip-feed content effectively. Resources can include frequently asked questions, tutorials, or demos.

Suppose you are developing drip-feed learning for a sales training initiative.

  • Collaborate with the product team to gather all relevant information.
  • Break down the information into bite-size lessons. That could include product features, benefits, competitive analysis, target audience personas, and handling objections.
  • Map out real-world selling scenarios where the salesperson can interact with the chatbot, simulating a sales pitch or handling objections.
  • To manage content overload, determine the need-to-know information. Anything that doesn't align with the initiative's outcomes is potential content for a different program.

As you configure the chatbot, continuously test and refine its responses. Also keep it updated with the latest information and ensure it can handle new queries as the goal evolves.

  • Program the chatbot to send out daily or weekly lessons. Ensure the content is interactive, possibly with images, GIFs, or short videos for better engagement.
  • Optimize the chatbot's interactions for low bandwidth. Be mindful of data usage for users on limited data plans; provide options to download larger content only when connected to Wi-Fi.
  • Offer offline modes or downloadable content packs for users who may be in areas with spotty internet or are traveling.

Track user interactions with the chatbot to identify common drop-off points or areas of confusion. Knowledge checks can entail short quizzes or questions to gauge user understanding of provided information, confirming the chatbot's responses are clear and effective. After each lesson, the chatbot can ask users for feedback, which ensures the content hits the mark, and adjust if necessary.

Continuously monitor chatbot performance and make regular updates based on user interactions and feedback.

  • Run a pilot with a small group of users to find barriers and bugs.
  • Determine who will have ownership of changes.
  • As the product evolves or new objections arise, update the chatbot so it provides new lessons or insights.

Gauge the chatbot's effectiveness and user satisfaction by using analytics to monitor engagement, quiz scores, and feedback. Also analyze metrics such as session duration or number of interactions per session to identify where users struggle; introduce additional training or resources to address those gaps.

Finally, regularly review the rate at which the chatbot fails to understand or misinterprets queries. High error rates can indicate areas for improvement in chatbot training.

About the Author

A workplace learning expert for more than 30 years, Shannon Tipton fights for learning that sticks. As the founder of Learning Rebels, she fixes training that’s broken and develops learning that delivers business results. Tipton is known for her Rebellious Rebuilding Framework. Her approach to learning reinforcement invites curiosity and strategy into workplace learning. She is author of Disruptive Learning and a global speaker.

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