Knowing How to Measure Knowledge Retention

Jun 01 2023
5 min read
Knowing How to Measure Knowledge Retention

Measuring knowledge retention in the workplace is not a simple process, but it’s a vital one. With all that effort and expense spent on learning and development, organizations need to ensure that natural forgetfulness and lack of use don’t let it all go to waste. And once you get a sense of retention rates, what should you do next? Read on to find out.

Remembering Forgetfulness

It would be great if, once an L&D course ends, we could move on to the next HR challenge. But that’s usually not the case. There are many ways in which employees lose the skills that they are trained for, and it is the job of HR to check employee proficiency in light of the following facts:

  • The forgetting curve. Ebbinghaus’ famous “forgetting curve” shows how a person’s memory of an event can fade in a matter of days. When it comes to skills, the forgetting curve means that some of the finer qualities of training are lost quickly, but basic aspects remain if the skill is used often. 
  • Lack of use over time. An employee who was once an expert at a certain function can lose much of their knowledge after a long period of disuse. For example, a one-time bookkeeper who is now the CFO might not remember how to use the company’s accounting software.   
  • Degradation over time. Between the two issues above is the tendency for highly developed skills to become “sloppy” over time. An employee begins to skip details of their work, either due to forgetfulness or lack of attention, and this gets worse as time goes on. 

Knowledge Retention Metrics

When dealing with retention, you’ll need to account for two factors: measurement methods and time. Given that forgetfulness can occur over days, months, and even years, monitoring should occur regularly–especially if the organization believes that the employee still needs these skills. There are three steps for measuring retention:

Choose a Goal

Anything that requires measurement needs a standard against which it can be judged. When it comes to workplace skills, metrics should compare what the employee can do to what they are expected to do. A simple means of setting a retention goal is through using a strategic performance objective template

When it comes to knowledge retention metrics, make sure to include a go/no-go standard that determines when an employee must be retrained or attend a refresher course. 

Pick a Reporting Framework

Selecting a goal tells you what to measure, and now you must decide how to measure it. There are multiple considerations here:

  • Some skills can be evaluated on the spot. For example, a production employee can be judged by the number of widgets per hour. But for other skills, only observation over time will do. This is where continuous feedback, an agile HR setup, and frequently scheduled performance reviews are imperative. 
  • This is a particular challenge when it comes to soft skills, because such abilities are very subjective. One way to deal with this is to have a combination of both numerical and descriptive reporting on the evaluation form. The figures can be easily reported and analyzed, while the descriptions are a way for HR to understand the reasons behind a certain assessment. 
  • It’s also important to select a reporting medium. Options include interviews, surveys, managerial feedback, focus groups, and evaluation forms. Keep in mind that measurements will occur over time, so the reporting methods should be consistent. 

Collect and Analyze

Now it’s time to gather up all that data and see how it compares to the goals you set. When only a few employees are performing below expectations, you can set up a retraining effort. Depending on their current level of knowledge, this might be an hour-long refresher or an entire course. 

However, if scores across the board are low, then there is a systematic problem. You might want to think about revising training methods.  

Improving Retention 

Are your retention metrics something you’d rather forget? Luckily, with retention being a universal concern, educational experts have devised many techniques to improve recall. For example:

  • Immediate use. An employee who has recently acquired a skill should apply it as often as possible. This can include a course where application is part of the training. In addition, employees should be moved to the position where their new skill is needed as soon as possible once the course has ended. 
  • Teaching techniques. Some instructional methods are better than others for enhancing recall. Mnemonics, spaced repetition, and EDIP are just a few of the ways to build skills and knowledge that are memorable. 
  • Course design. One of the theories behind poor recall rates is that employees spend too much time on learning things they don’t need to know. A method of focusing on essential material is to design courses around learning clusters.  

A Note on Organizational Knowledge

There is more than one type of workplace knowledge. Companies are, in a way, a type of organism. Many of us have heard of institutional memory, while anybody with a business background is familiar with trade secrets, standard procedures, and organizational culture. The sum total of these factors is actually a type of knowledge that needs to be recorded, reviewed, and preserved. To this end, there are a set of concepts for measuring organizational knowledge retention.  

Retain GrowthSpace for Greater Knowledge

L&D programs can play a major role in skill retention, but only when they are applied properly. There are various ways to make learning stick, and many L&D trainers, mentors, and coaches are familiar with them. The challenge for HR is to connect with the experts who have these abilities. 

That’s where GrowthSpace comes in. The platform has literally a global reach and puts you in touch with highly-rated experts who apply the latest learning techniques. More than that, GrowthSpace’s collection of workplace training professionals can fulfill any upskilling need and teach through a variety of formats. So, if you want to know how to really build employee knowledge, engage with GrowthSpace.  

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