Why Don’t People Remember Their Training? Five Steps of Learning and Applying Information

Why Don't People Remember Training Image

You tell them, and you tell them, and you tell them again, and they still don’t learn.

Sound familiar? Have you ever uttered these words to yourself after a training session?

If so, you may need to remind yourself of some old cliches:

  • Telling ain’t training
  • Learners aren’t empty vessels you pour information into
  • Don’t be the sage on the stage
  • Don’t spray and pray

So if you hold training sessions, and your employees seem to forget the training immediately, it may be time to quit blaming them and turn your thoughts inward: what can you do to create more memorable training experiences? How can you help workers remember and apply what they learned during training when they’re back on the job?

To that end, we’re going to give you a quick overview of how people process, store, and later retrieve information. This is the first step to making training that’s more memorable.

Why People Don’t Remember Their Training

But why, you ask? Why can’t I just tell a person something once and assume they’ll understand, remember, and then later use that information when it’s needed on the job?

To understand that, it’s important to know and understand five steps that explain how people learn during training and later apply that information on the job. Those five steps are listed below.

  • Sensory Information: Our senses (sight, hearing, etc.) are bombarded with information. We focus on some of it. This phase lasts only a very brief time–a moment.
  • Working Memory: We process or actively “work on/think about” the information from our senses with our working memory. This is also sometimes called our short-term memory. People can keep only a small amount of information in the working memory. And by small, we mean small—about 4-7 “pieces” of information. To make things worse, we can keep information in our working memory for only a very short time period—maybe 10-15 seconds.
  • Long-Term Memory: Some of the information from our working memory is then stored in our long-term memory. The rest of that information that is not stored in long term memory is lost.
  • Retrieval and Application: Ideally, information that’s stored in the long-term memory is later retrieved and applied on the job when it’s needed. But that retrieval and use is not a guarantee.
  • Near Transfer and Far Transfer: Near transfer is using the information in the same context in which you were taught it. Far transfer is using it in a brand new context. Both are good, but it’s harder to get far transfer, and far transfer often creates great value because it’s innovative.

Here’s what that looks like, metaphorically:

five steps of learning and using information image

There are two points in mentioning all this.

First, as we mentioned earlier, because simply telling something to someone isn’t the same as training that person.

And second, because there are things you can do as a trainer to help your learners with each of the five steps above. Do it well, and your training will succeed. Do it poorly, and your training will fail. So it pays to be aware of these steps and to create training that helps your learners through all the different parts of the process.

For more on this general topic, consider reading some of these articles:

In addition, here are some more articles that follow directly in this series:

And here are other articles related to effective training:

And don’t forget to download our free guide to learning objectives below.


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Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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