Forgetting is the hobgoblin of businesses everywhere. Globally, more than $300 billion is spent annually by companies hoping to train their employees to do their jobs successfully and safely. Yet, learning professionals know that people will forget 80 percent or more of what they learned after 30 to 90 days unless it's reinforced.
It's a human biology problem — people forget. However, if that were the only issue, it would have been solved long ago. Instead, it's a holistic issue that includes how people learn and forget, how people engage with training, and how knowledge gaps are identified and addressed across entire organizations.
How do we get people to remember what we need them to know to do their job more effectively? And how do we do it without it taking up so much of their time that training becomes impossibly expensive?
Therein lies the problem. Neuroscientists have done extensive research on how the brain remembers things long-term, and it's not what most people think.
We've grown up in a culture of cramming. Review the content over and over right before a test, take the test, pass it, and you're done. Check the box. Unfortunately, your brain is done with that material too, and over time, it will purge itself of that information unless you do something about it.
The act of forgetting allows our brains to strengthen their neurological pathways to help us remember. This is called "retrieval practice" and according to Dr. Henry Roediger, one of the authors of the book, Make It Stick: "Retrieval practice via quizzes spaced out over time helps to consolidate knowledge and keep it on employees' 'mental fingertips,' so it is easy to access when needed." In essence, you re-introduce something learned so that the brain "recalls" it, and if done enough over a certain period, it is more likely that people will remember this information longer.
With today's technology, we can automate spaced repetition. Artificial intelligence can predict when people will forget and proactively nudge employees to avoid creating knowledge gaps across organizations. Delivering information in a personalized way, such that every learner has their own proficiency map, enables knowledge retention with very little time expenditure.
It's human nature that when someone knows more, they are more confident in their abilities. This translates to better performance across nearly all use cases within a business. Top salespeople know their product like the back of their hands to identify solutions for customers quickly. The best customer service teams don't just reference knowledge bases; they are familiar with the product, processes, or services that allow them to be responsive and think holistically about issues. The safest work environments are a product of employees knowing what they need to do to keep themselves, and each other, safe. Knowledge retention powers high-performing people and organizations.
Forgetting can never be eliminated. Rather, businesses that leverage forgetting as opportunities to strengthen their people's knowledge will create a culture of continuous learning. Employees will feel more empowered and confident. Knowledge silos will be broken down, and the analog ways that knowledge was retained across peer interactions will become digital. An open network of knowledge will emerge and supplement our brains, making what was once a weakness in human biology, forgetting, an opportunity to remember.
Lawrence Schwartz is the co-founder and CEO of Texas-based Trivie.