Training Employees: The Biggest Learning Challenge And How To Overcome It

8 Billion dollars. That’s the amount companies spent in outside training products and services in the US in 2015. And that’s 29% higher than the year before.

Training your people is important. It is not only a way to improve employees’ skills, but also to make them feel they are progressing within your company so they stay longer working for you.

If you look at data about what employees value most at work (also in the US) the top three items are related to compensation. But look at the number four: it is “supplemental training programs”. Surprised?

People like to work at a company where they can learn, develop new skills or improve the ones they already have. You may think that training relates to productivity; the better skills your employees have, the more productive they will be. But productivity isn’t only about having the skills. It is also about being motivated to put them into practice. You can have the most skilled sales or customer service person in your team, if she feels she is stuck in her career, if she thinks she can’t progress and improve at your company, she will be demotivated, her productivity will go down and you will have a high risk of see her leaving within the next 6 months.

The challenge of learning

Yes, training is important and you probably know that. So you decide to hire company “x” to deliver a first class training over a couple of days to your employees. Great news! There is a problem though and it is related to how quickly we forget what we learn. There is a theory that explains this and it is called the “Forgetting Curve”.

In 1885 the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus after extensive experimentation, formulated a hypothesis that was generally accepted about how we do retain and forget information. Putting his formula into a graph, he was able to show how much learnt information was forgotten over time if we didn’t try to retain it. It looks like this:

“People forget around 90% of what they learned after a week”

There are some studies that talk about 70% instead and of course, there are people who remember more than others; but generally speaking the graph above represents what usually happens.

There are two ways to mitigate the learning forgetting curve though, repetition, content and delivery:


By repeating the training and doing practice sessions periodically, the forgetting curve presents a different progression. In fact, people will remember more of what they learned for a longer period of time.

This is how it the forgetting curve looks like when you apply repetition:


Obviously, people tend to remember more about content that connected with them in one way or another. The more relevant the content, the more engaging it is, the more the trainees will learn and remember. Makes sense right?


You created great content. Now, depending on how you deliver that content to your audience, it will make the difference between them remembering it for a longer time or just forget about it after a couple of days.

Have you been at one of those three day conferences where you watch 20 different presentations? How many of them do you remember after a week, a month or even a year? I do remember just a couple even from years ago from Mark Tidmarsh or Lourdes Martins. They both had great and relevant content but more importantly, they were also great speakers who knew how to engage with the audience to deliver their message.

It may seem funny, but I also remember a couple of very bad ones exactly for the opposite reasons, their content was really bad and their speaking skills were very poor. Still, this shows that content and delivery are key aspects for remembering information.

You have the best trainers at home (and they are cheaper too)

Nice he? All that money spent in a great quality training program and a week after the trainees remember almost nothing. Don’t worry, there is another option to try.

One of the most efficient and effective methodologies that I personally used many times in my career is called “peer training”. This consists of giving the opportunity to (usually high performance) employees of your teams to train their co-workers. As an example, I applied this training methodology at several contact centres of telecom companies, where agents were using our software to support the end customers remotely.

By analysing the system usage of the different team members that had access to the application, I could clearly differentiate their performance and divide them into three categories:

  • Top performers: normally around 5 to 10 % of the agents.
  • Average performers: between 70 to 80 %.
  • Low performers: between 15 to 20 %.

There are several benefits out of using this technique both for the employees that receive the training as well as the ones that deliver it.

Trainees’ benefits

  • They feel more comfortable when interacting with a peer.
  • They are more open to learn when the information is coming from someone at their own level.
  • Teacher and trainee share challenges and resources, encouraging the trainee to improve performance. (If he can do it, I can do it too).
  • Openness generates active and interactive learning.

Teacher’ benefits

  • Feeling recognised as a high performer and a valued employee.
  • It gives motivation to keep up the good work.
  • Gives the possibility to learn a different skill set.
  • It creates a sense of progression within the company.
  • Reinforces their own learning when instructing others.

Peer training is also financially efficient. The decrease of the productivity of the high performer while preparing and delivering the training, will be highly compensated by how the low performers will improve theirs. The key here will be to focus on bringing low performers to average ones.

Let’s put some numbers here. This is just a generic and conservative example using round numbers:


Of course this is just a rough example but if you think about it, it probably makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, there are many excellent training programs out there and companies that provide excellent services. I do it too.

There are also software solutions that help to learn or improve skills in a more innovative way. Look around, explore and try new ways of giving training. But remember, sometimes we are busy looking outside trying to find the best solution when we actually have it at home.

Thank you for reading, glad you made it till the end 🙂 If you liked the article, please share it. I would be happy to hear what do you think about training methodologies and what works best for you so far.


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