Humans forget up to 70% of what they've learned in 24 hours. If you ask my wife, she will tell you that, at least with me, this is true. According to the research behind "the Forgetting Curve"1, the loss levels off at just below 80% and remains static over the next 30 days. Think about what this means to "event" learning where they come to an in-person class for a day or two and then return to their jobs. The participants will only actually remember 20% of what was presented to them.
In the virtual training world, where multiple one-to-two hour sessions are separated by days or weeks of returning to the workplace, learners have an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and apply those learnings to their job. It's long been understood that reflecting is critical when it comes to making learning stick. Reflecting allows learners to mentally sift through the lessons and determine what it means in their world. New research from Harvard Business School and two other prestigious universities2 indicates that learning and application is more effective when combined with reflection. In some cases, learners that reflected after the learning performed more than 20% better in an assessment of the learning than those who did not.
Spaced learning sessions with inter-session assignments are critical to longer term retention of the learning. It's easy to see how practice, reflection and application during the intersession period greatly increase the chance that the learning will be applied. I recently lead a virtual session that helps leaders lead through and accelerate change. The learners came to session two, recounted the steps that they had taken during the intersession and then discussed the impact of these actions. It was simply amazing how they had taken those lessons to heart and immediately applied them in their workplace. In addition, this session also served as collaboration as other learners could see what worked and didn't work for their colleagues and then apply it to their learning path.
I am sure you agree with me when I say "sticky" learning is the key to better performance and can boost the return on your learning investment. There is value in spacing the learning and you should avoid the temptation to space multiple sessions less than one week apart. Spacing multiple sessions appropriately to allow learners to reflect and apply what they have learned will drastically improve the retention of the learners and the impact of your virtual training!
1. "the Forgetting Curve", Hermann Ebbinhaus
2. Research also by HEC Paris and the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School