How Google Has Forever Changed the Employee Learning Curve

Google Forgetting Curve blog image

Forgetting is a big part of the learning process. At work, the process of learning and forgetting is put to the test on the job. This is why employee learning retention is important because your employees don’t have time to study—nor do they always know what, exactly, to prepare for.

For a long time, employees were simply expected to do their best to recall as much as they could from training, and everyone—training managers included—knew that forgetting was inevitable. So, what’s changed?

Well, it has a lot to do with how employees use Google, but that’s only part of the whole employee learning and development equation. 

How quickly do employees forget? 

It’s by no means a hard-and-fast rule for every employee, but if you look at widely regarded research by Hermann Ebbinghaus, there is a guide with the “forgetting curve.” 

In his research, Ebbinghaus found he only remembered 100% of the information at the time of acquisition. After that, he started forgetting information very quickly. In a mere 20 minutes, 42% of what he’d learned was lost. Within 24 hours, 67% was gone. Finally, a month later, he only remembered 21% of what he’d originally memorized.

Applied to your employee learning curve, that means longer, concentrated training will likely get forgotten faster than shorter bursts of training. And the more spaced out training sessions are, the less information gets retained. 

Is it a bad thing if employees forget? 

If you put actual training dollars next to the forgetting curve, this lost information isn’t just annoying, but also very costly.

However, Training Magazine reminds us that the phenomenon of forgetting isn’t just normal, it’s actually healthy: “Most of the things we remember (like where we set our glasses), are only of short-term importance, and after a day or so the brain needs to suppress such time-limited memories in order to free space for information that may be of more immediate value.”

In other words, we shouldn’t try to remember everything. Our brains need space to process the important stuff, such as human interaction or strategic long-term thinking. Much like reading a favorite recipe or looking at a map for the right directions, we re-remind ourselves of details everyday—and have no intention of trying to memorize them.

For your employee learning curve, it’s important to understand this, and create your programs accordingly. That means having an up-to-date hub of knowledge and training that’s accessible whenever employees need it…because employees will forget information. 

How has technology changed employee learning retention?

Of course, employees don’t memorize every detail that’s needed on the job, and that’s where Google comes in. Employees know that Google will pull up millions of answers to their questions in seconds, and so they’ve come to depend on it.

But, there’s a risk with Google. 

Unlike your carefully curated employee L&D materials, Google serves up answers based on your employee’s search query—not whether the answers are most relevant to your business. It can be dangerous for your employees to depend on Google. The problem is, everyone is already doing it.

To beat Google, you need to rely on training tools with sophisticated search functions that allow employees to scroll through training content and find what they need, fast. Not only does that combat the forgetting curve, but it also makes them more productive instead of scrolling through irrelevant search results. 

Where does that leave your employee L&D?

If search had been around when Hermann Ebbinghaus was alive, he might have studied how quickly he could find information. Because in the end, that’s what matters at work. You can combat the forgetting curve and Google searches simply by providing the right knowledge and training tools so your employees can quickly find the right answers on the job.