Why train people in things they need to forget?

Job-related training is an exercise in helping people develop memories in the hope that the things they learn in training will be useful to them in the future. It’s well known that the half-life of memories created in formal training is extremely short – you may have come across Ebbinghaus’ ‘forgetting curve’ hypothesis.

But organizations today still spend a great deal of time and money training their employees about facts and processes that they simply can’t remember.

Good examples of this are the keystroke level training of system procedures that are only performed infrequently. This is information that employees should be able to instantly access when they need to, not things to clutter their limited short term memory.

Give them ‘attack skills’

In an earlier life-time I was involved in publishing educational textbooks, including early childhood reading schemes. The literacy educators talked then of teaching children the necessary ‘attack skills’ to ‘have a go at reading’ on their own.

It was all about giving them basic skills and a safe environment to ‘work it out for themselves’. It’s really just an extension of what we do as parents of young children – encourage them ’read’ the word while they point at the picture that illustrates it.

The same principles can apply to process change in the workplace. Rather than trying to ‘teach’ people to ‘remember’ details, you should provide them with a process guidance system and then train them to be confident and competent when the time comes to use it, back on the job.

None of this is new. As the wise Chinese proverb states: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Ted Gannan

Ted Gannan co-founded Panviva after 20 years in a variety of senior management, sales, and editorial roles in the publishing industry, including Managing Director of Thomson Learning, Australia. Ted led the development of SupportPoint after identifying a need for an improved method of delivering ‘moment-of-need’ procedural and product knowledge to employees. He is responsible for overseeing the company’s growth worldwide.

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