Online training software is one of the greatest assets your company has, because a properly trained workforce is more productive, more profitable, and has lower employee turnover.

Source: Gallup

Those are all great numbers, but how do you achieve them? Many workforces are scattered across countries and continents. This makes in-person training expensive and difficult to coordinate, so online training software that’s accessible to everyone is a must-have if you want the best from your team. And, online training software has a unique advantage over face-to-face training: the ability to space learning out over time. Spaced learning dramatically improves learner retention, so you can achieve the company-wide benefits a well-trained workforce provides.

What is spaced learning?

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is a mathematical model of memory created by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. Ebbinghaus observed how much information was retained in human memory over time, and developed the forgetting curve based on those observations. Present day scientific observation and testing based on Ebbinghaus’ work shows spaced repetition is an effective model for consolidating information.

online training software improves the ebbinghaus forgetting curve.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Because lessons spaced over time are more effective, online training software has an advantage over face-to-face training. The logistical challenges involved with assembling a wide reaching team for face-to-face training make spaced learning impractical. The ease with which spaced learning is delivered through online training software gives it the advantage.

How to space lessons and courses

There’s some debate over how much information the human mind can work with or remember at one time. Current research points to somewhere between four and seven unique pieces of information. Regardless of the exact number, it’s safe to say that you don’t want to overwhelm your learners with too much information at one time. To maximize learner retention, use shorter micro-lessons spaced over time.

With online training software, it’s easy for your training team to create micro-lessons that teach one task or concept. And when tasks or concepts have multiple steps, look for logical places to break up these micro-lessons into smaller components, or use spacing within the lesson.

Let’s say a micro-lesson covers a process that has 10 steps that need to be taught in one lesson. Break those 10 steps up and cover the first half, followed by an exercise to consolidate those steps in long term memory. Then, continue with the remaining steps, and follow that up with another consolidation exercise for the second group of steps. Finally, present a consolidation exercise which accounts for all 10 steps in the process. This allows learners to successfully acquire new material in short-term memory and consolidate it into long-term memory.

Lastly, spacing information over time and providing follow up reinforcement exercises is critical. Referring back to previously taught information through review and assessment helps with information retrieval strength, and strengthens the information in long term memory. Training doesn’t stop when the last of the new material is delivered to learners. Follow-up reinforcement exercises should continue to be delivered through your online training software over a period of days or even weeks, depending on the scope of the overall material.