It still surprises me to learn about the number of companies that opt to deliver learning & development initiatives in either formal- or classroom | seminar-style training knowing that method of information transfer ultimately sabotages the content being shared. We consistently continue to undermine learning and promote forgetting through out-dated, musty models of knowledge sharing. Here are three [out of six] of the greatest impediments to effective programs today:


Research on the “forgetting curve” shows that within one hour of formal learning [classroom or seminar style training], people will have forgotten an average of 50% of the information presented. Within 24 hours, they have forgotten an average of 70% of new information, and within a week, forgetting claims an average of 90% of it. Whether I work directly with a company or they simply call me for guidance in learning architecture for today’s learner there are some critical points that I review with them to maximize learning.

Design Learning That Is Relevant & Relatable: The fast-paced evolution of today’s workplaces insists that everyone needs to commit to continuous learning and using the resources available. It also means that training and content has to be super-relevant and current to the specific daily activities of each and every individual in your workplace. If the content isn’t relevant and highly relatable for the learner, it will be a wasted resource. The nature and benefit of small & short content allows for quick creation, design, and adaptation of content and fast consumption by the learner, which ultimately benefits retention. Creating training that addresses a relevant need and provides solutions or applications that are exciting and consumable for the learner is key for engagement.

Identify Specific Topics You Want Them To Remember: Today’s learners are curious and as a result they want their resources to be accessible and adaptable to provide them with a  lot of information relevant to their work and to support their career collateral. However, that means that organizations need to identify and build awareness around the elements of training you want, and need, them to remember. This needs to be discussed with learners. How do they want the information? What prompting mechanisms do we need to deliver for the greatest engagement of the most important knowledge? The Rule of Seven is an old marketing adage. It says that a person needs to see or hear your message at least seven times before they recognize what you are telling them. Though the number seven isn’t cast in stone. The truth of the Rule of Seven is you can’t just “hope” your message sticks, you need to design it to. After all, HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY. Ever.

Reward And Motivate Learners To Learn: Behaviorist educational psychologists favor reward and motivation based on positive reinforcement from the leader [extrinsic motivation]. Constructivists prefer learning content that creates intrinsic motivation, with the learner congratulating themselves on accomplishment. People are more inclined to participate in learning when there is  some form of motivation and recognition attached to it. Making learning fun and engaging has absolutely supported synergy between the learner, the platform(s), and the content. For rewards to be effective, they need to be linked to specific material covered in the learning & development content and the recognition needs to be adapted to the learner to be personal and memorable. In other words, make it worth their while.

Utilize Links In Your Content: In 2016-2017 I worked in partnership with CareerBuilder & Capella Learning Solutions to create the fabulous Retail RightSkill program. Inside that program we were able to measure the learners clicks on topic compatible links. The click rate was over 85%. Adding beneficial content for learners to continue their growth is a highly effective way to turn individual pieces of data – presented in small and short delivery – into an informational map. When a learner knows the context for a process they’ll more inclined to recollect the steps of the process. Effectively, in using context and scenarios you are helping the learner to build memory maps. Utilizing pertinent links also allow for memory-building repetition in subtle and encouraging ways that avoids being boring and redundant to them.

Deliver Multi-Modal & Multi-Layered Content: In creating memorable content, passive learning is absolutely not as effective as active learning. Hence, formal and classroom style learning is more likely to be forgotten than social and experiential learning which is engaging, interactive, collaborative, and collective which increases learning participation and continuous engagement.


I was in a meeting with a retail company back in February and we were discussing some recent learning and development experiences they had as we worked on creating an updated job description for a technical L&D leader. They shared a few examples of things they tried to institute with a consultant they’d hired. One of the initiatives was: All employees in the office needed to swipe in and out with their employee cards – each day – due to a security need that had to do with IT and employee accessibility to data each day. They were talking about how they failed to successfully implement this policy. So I asked them some questions:

  • How did you communicate the updated policy?
  • What platform did you deliver your message through?
  • What capture rate did you expect to see in 48/72/96 business hours?
  • Where is their capture rate today?

There were six people in the room with me – all department heads – and they were completely silent. They said the consultant sent out a memo on the policy update which – essentially – just stated on a specific date everyone needed to swipe in and out. No meaning or purpose behind why this was needed and the employees viewed this new and inconvenient “policy” as parental and condescending. They didn’t have any plan for what they wanted to see as far as execution of the policy in any time frame. Finally, they’d abandoned their security initiative and planned on rolling it out another time. I asked how much they’d compensated their L&D consultant for this gem? $5000 for this update and communication. I was stunned. It was wasted time, effort, and fiscally irresponsible – and they set a very dangerous precedent for future L&D practices at their headquarters.

Daily Practice Is Required: Business leaders, managers, office influencers need to know the meaning and purpose behind changes and updates in order to integrate from a “memo” [ugh] into everyday behavior. They need to support, encourage, and shape the desired and necessary behavior changes by modeling the process. They need to inspire engagement – versus demanding compliance – through treating people like the adults they are and explaining why this is necessary in this data-security driven era. We need to promote repetition to encourage habit forming [it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit] – it is not that people don’t want to do it, but it takes time to retain the new policy. Recognize capture rate improvements and thank the team for their help throughout the habit-forming timeline.

Engage The Use Of Prompting Mechanisms As Reminders: Most organizations have the IT functionality to use prompting notices to remind employees of important learning initiatives and most LMS platforms also have this capability, yet most fail to utilize these functions. Using prompting notifications of new or updated learning and development content will help your people to find time to hop on the platforms regularly. There is a reason the average person checks Facebook 14 times per day – because they encourage us to.

Assess Impact of Programs By Asking: This is such an easy step in the follow-up process, but frequently missed. The first thing I did when the team of department heads told me their swipe policy failed was excuse myself from the meeting room for five minutes. I approached the first person I saw and asked for feedback about the policy. That is the person that explained that they’d discussed it with some of their colleagues and they felt it was “parental”. Then I walked through the office and randomly found another person who said the communication came across as “condescending” – although they did it. People felt it was “Big-Brother-ish” and meant to keep tabs on them. If it doesn’t have the intended or desired impact, talk to a variety of people face-to-face, find out what was missing – adapt the communication|program|process, acknowledge the miss, publicly thank people for their feedback. This will support the perception that you are invested in the delivering the best content and direction to your team.

Today’s workforce is largely independent [compared to one or two generations ago]. We have talent bringing their own ways to work and finding new and efficient ways to execute their responsibilities and construct their day or week that no longer fits into a predictable or parochial traditional working relationship. Training must be digitally organic and mobile in order to be effective for today’s learners. It has to be adapted and accessible to fit into the busy lives of all of our people both at and outside of work and interesting enough for them to want to engage with. Micro-learning opportunity and games – I have found – delivers training in short and easily absorbed bursts where learners can conveniently invite the training in their day-to-day activities. There needs to be alignment for training skills, competencies, policies, and processes, if we don’t honor and respect the learning and development needs and wants of today’s learners they are unlikely to utilize the platforms.


In our hyper-process-driven organizations we have created environments that discourage and constrict thinking and creativity. People have become creatively confined by bureaucracy, and those parental, and condescending policies that cater to the lowest common denominator in the workplace, creating learned helplessness and repelling innovation. The reality is that innovation and possibilities are undermined each day in organizations that favor and insist upon operational execution, such as checklists, time-wasting meetings, productivity measured by hours worked, and control.

Effective learning and development does not ignore business objectives, of course. But in working toward these goals, we need to ensure that we aren’t inadvertently designing organizational hierarchy, processes, communication, and policies that systematically crush creativity. Thinking and gaining knowledge is a pipeline to improved processes, better customer experience delivery, and a deeper-connection with people’s work. When you can elevate how people think by creating expanded experience, providing engagement, encouraging social and digital learning initiatives we can rethink better ways to work together to achieve optimal performance.