Setting and Applying Knowledge Retention KPIs

Jun 02 2023
5 min read
Setting and Applying Knowledge Retention KPIs

Knowledge retention KPIs are numbers that you should be familiar with. Productivity, budgets, and even engagement can depend on employees recalling what they have learned. It all starts with evaluating knowledge retention in different ways and across the organization.  

Don’t Waste L&D Resources!

When it comes to L&D, “a penny saved is a penny earned” means essentially: “a lesson remembered is a lesson learned”. If employees retain the knowledge that they have worked so hard to acquire, it’s basically equivalent to saving a whole chunk of money. 

But is this really a major problem? It might be argued that, when a skill is practiced every day, employees have a high rate of retention. But let’s not forget that the finer points of a skill tend to degrade over time unless given reinforcement. And, when it comes to the dreaded short-term forgetting curve, and the even more problematic issue of long-term disuse, the chances that employees are losing their skills get even higher.

Statistics from the Harvard Business Review prove the point. Without applying what’s been learned, the average person forgets more than 40% of recent knowledge – after only 20 minutes. Six days later, that rate increases to 75%.  

Why Are Knowledge Retention KPIs Important?

Keeping track of knowledge retention by periodically measuring skills gives you vital information, such as: 

  • The current level of abilities possessed by the general workforce
  • The productive capacity of individual employees
  • How effective L&D program design is
  • Which skills are critical, and which don’t need as much support

Setting KPIs

The process of measuring knowledge retention over time starts well in advance. Perhaps the most important best practice for designing any course is to set KPIs. The basic steps are always the same, regardless of topic. Measurements should be taken three times:

  • Before the course, to set a performance benchmark
  • During the course, to check on training satisfaction levels 
  • After the course, to assess final skill levels and course quality

It is the final measurement that can be applied to future assessments. 

A Note on Proficiency and Frequency

Do employees need to remember every detail of a course? It depends. If their role involves tasks with high safety, legal, financial, or performance requirements, then the answer gets closer to “yes”. In these situations, HR needs to assess knowledge retention often and vigorously. 

But a balance must be struck between retention and resources. The essential question here is “should we invest funds to support this skill?” If the employee is meeting their primary requirements, it might be a good idea to have a close look at ROI in light of the cost of refresher courses. 

Similarly, it takes time and money to assess skill levels, and might be in your interest to limit evaluation schedules to once every half year or even on a yearly basis. More important is that employees use their skills soon after the course ends and regularly thereafter, along with regular feedback sessions. 

4 Areas for Evaluating Retention KPIs

Assessing skill retention involves more than looking at skills themselves. The technicalities of a skill are important, but their application counts for just as much. For effective retention measurements, you should look at both academic and practical performance. 

Learned Skill Retention

Hang on to those test sheets! A simple way of assessing skill retention is to examine workers using the same methods they used during the original course. But it’s important to avoid the “practice effect”, where people tend to score better on tests after taking the same ones multiple times. For this reason, you might need to reformulate questions or test areas that are different from previous evaluations.

Transfer of Training

After most L&D courses, the next step is to apply what has been learned to the employee’s specific role, otherwise known as transfer of training. There are some program designs that normally include this activity, such as classic on-the-job training structures. 

Because transfer of learning is such a common goal, various frameworks have been developed to grade it. For instance, the next to last level of Kirkpatrick’s Four-level Training Evaluation Model takes a look at “behavior”. This is an assessment of “the degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job.”


Overall engagement rates are crucial for any HR department to examine. But, even within the general category of “disengaged”, there are varying reasons behind the behavior. You may find that some segments of employees don’t feel that they have the skills to do their job, even if they have received training for it. That’s because time and the usual forgetfulness can affect even the most dedicated workers. When conducting engagement and pulse surveys, it’s important to give disengaged employees the option of explaining their lack of interest in work. 

Individual and Organizational Performance Reports 

A slipping skill level can make itself known in numerous ways:

  • Lower productivity and more mistakes
  • Poor managerial reviews
  • Complaining customers

Often, the first sign of trouble is a negative organizational or departmental performance assessment. From there, HR can look at individual stats and figure out whose level of ability might be deteriorating. 

GrowthSpace Makes L&D a Memorable Experience

Different types of knowledge reinforcement activities will make your KPIs shine. Refresher courses, innovative teaching methods, and intelligent program design can all contribute to optimal skill levels right from the start of a lesson and improve retention even months later. 

For reasons like these, and much more, count on GrowthSpace. The GrowthSpace platform gives you worldwide access to training experts who specialize in the latest and most effective teaching techniques. No matter how specific your upskilling needs are, GrowthSpace has the right trainer, coach, or mentor for you.

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