Learning on the job isn’t just for trainees or new hires anymore. Employees who have been on the team for years are required to learn more at an increasing pace. Change is constant in today’s business environment. Employees have to work harder than ever to balance an increasing workload as well as learn new procedures, policies, and strategies at the same time.
When we think of learning, most still think of books. However, with the number of businesses looking to minimize their carbon footprint and their overhead, not only is online hiring becoming more common, but orientation, new hire training, and elearning is proving to be a better choice. One of the less thought of benefits of elearning is the opportunity for increased knowledge retention.
Repetition with a Variety of Sensory Inputs
With toddlers, the concept is simple. If you want a young child to learn the concept of “cold” (a basic concept for a basic knowledge level), he hears you say the word “cold”, he feels something “cold”. Eventually he says the word “cold” himself, and before long, he can say the word and apply it appropriately. This one simple word and its meaning is retained throughout life because of so many ways to think about what “cold” really means.
With learning in adults, retention of knowledge needed for the workplace is merely a more complex version of this. Aren’t we all considered “newbies” or “junior associates” or “trainees” when we start out?
For example, if a sales rep needed to learn about a product line addition, hearing and seeing the information while learning about it in an online environment, followed by feeling the product and coming into physical contact with it, combined with discussing the product with co-workers and management in an in-person training session gives both benefits of learning with a variety of sensory inputs as well as repetition over a longer period of time (even if only hours or days) than simply having a class or a presentation with a group of sales reps.
Potentially Lower Stress/Cortisol Levels
An increasing number of employees are already teetering on the edge of burnout. When an employee sits down to learn when they would otherwise be working, or at home if it is before or after work hours, they are most likely thinking about what they are NOT accomplishing at that moment.
In addition, the fact that some people are naturally anxious in groups or get nervous due to the fact that it takes them longer to absorb information than others, it’s understandable that cortisol levels would be higher among a group of individuals in an in-person training session.
Higher cortisol levels have been shown to decrease knowledge retention whether due to high levels of stress, lack of sleep, or other medical/psychological reasons.
Elearning can help to facilitate knowledge retention by either allowing employees to work at their own pace, work in chunks of time that are more conducive to their learning style, attention span, or schedule allowances. By allowing the employee a feeling of control over what they are expected to learn, stress levels can be lower and therefore, what is learned is more likely to be retained.
Increased Ability to Manage Distractions
As mentioned previously, when employees are able to participate in elearning, scheduling a time where distractions can be minimized is not only an option, but a benefit. For example, if training is needed for an account manager, but most of that manager’s clients tends to call during the mid-morning hours, then training can be scheduled during non-critical time intervals of the day, where distractions could be fewer or the account manager could be “unavailable” without inconveniencing higher numbers of clients.
Allowing employees to focus on material they are learning gives the benefit of the knowledge being retained past the little 5 question test at the end of the chapter or module.
Ability to Review the Material Prior to Being Taught
Most college students are taught (if they didn’t learn this in highschool) that to learn more effectively in the classroom, they need to review the material that will be taught prior to stepping into the classroom, and if possible, to review it the day before. Elearning makes prior review possible. After review and a good night’s sleep, the ability to actually comprehend what is being taught in the classroom is optimized. That comprehension can help facilitate longer-term retention.
Opportunities for Refresher Courses and/or Continued Practice
As time goes on and material previously learned is applied less frequently, it’s only natural to need a refresher course. Not only does elearning have the benefit of being more available and more easily accessible, depending on the setup of an organisation’s learning software, some of this training can be done outside of work hours at the employee’s convenience. Some employees need additional practice to feel confident that they’ve comprehended what they’ve learned and would happily continue practice exercises or retake an online class in an effort to feel competent among their coworkers. Again, when learning is a choice, what is learned is much more likely to be retained.