The modern age continues to present us with challenges and opportunities when it comes to being at our most productive. The speed at which technology is advancing means that many companies and brands are faced with very real productivity challenges. How do you stay competitive in a market that is constantly undergoing change and evolution? At the same time, we’re presented with myriad of ways that people can be more productive, both personally and professionally. The challenge for the modern learning professional is how to present workers with the right knowledge and know-how, at the right time, so that their performance and productivity are enhanced.

In light of this challenge, one of the theories that most learning professionals will be familiar with Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve. Ebbinghaus was able to show, during the 1880s, that a failing of the human condition is that we quickly forget new information we learn if we don’t do anything useful with it in a very short amount of time. It presents quite the conundrum for learning professionals because we don’t want people to forget the knowledge and skills they experience and practice during programmes that have been so heavily invested in.

The strength of the Ebbinghaus theory is that it’s something which remains relevant today. In an age where information is at our fingertips, this presents a further challenge with how we help people retain their learning. In fact, the question of instructor-led training is brought into direct light, and we have to question its usefulness and its utility. That is, if we deliver a solution through instructor-led delivery, is that a good use of time, and is it a good use of the medium? And let’s not forget, in L&D we’re not in the business of knowledge transfer or even learning delivery, we’re in the business of improving performance and capability.

Eliminating the Forgetting Curve

If you approach learning solutions with digital resources first, which links local know-how and real expertise to the work and challenges faced by others in the organisation via videos, articles, and checklists, then this enables a stronger line of thinking related to performance. And where the thing you need to learn is apparent, a resources-first approach can be a simpler and more effective way to equip workers. You don’t need to take someone away from their work environment to make them sit through an e-course, or instructor-led training, to make them learn something, you just give them access to the resources that enable the same outcome in a more straightforward fashion.

What about when you’re required to learn things over time? For example, if you’re working on a project which is likely to last several months or even a couple of years, how do you continue to learn and be productive, without being taken away from the work environment unnecessarily? And remember, we’re talking about reducing the effect of forgetting.

The answer lies in being able to closely link ‘learning’ to work. That is, we create practices and provide tools where people can ask questions of each other, share information, resources and content with each other, and help people apply what they need immediately.

In the digital age that we’re in, the impact we have can be far more effective in improving everyday performance and capability by providing guidance, know-how and insight, all immediately and without the need to attend training or complete a course. This will eliminate the Ebbinghaus effect because you’re not learning something in the absence of its immediate utility.

Companies such as ASOS and HarperCollins have realised that if you can provide a way for people to share information, know-how and insights, digitally and in the context of the work being done, you can deliver more effective learning solutions. These solutions can even eliminate the need for designing programmes and courses that rely too heavily on the hope that enough will be remembered to truly influence the work and deliver real results.

Ben Muzzell is CEO of Looop and works with clients, such as Sky, ASOS, HarperCollins and Radisson Edwardian Hotels, on their digital learning transformations.

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