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How Do You Build Training for Uncommon Events?

Our brains are quick to adapt. As we learn new tasks and take on new challenges and environments, our minds constantly rewire themselves. We create and strengthen neural pathways to match the changes around us. This is great for our overall efficiency and for tasks that are consistently relevant to us, but it also presents a problem: How do you teach in preparation for uncommon problems, situations or events?

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist made a discovery based on his research in human memory and recall. This phenomenon, dubbed the forgetting curve, shows how newly learned information is forgotten over time. This trend creates a major challenge in learning and development. The effectiveness of training must stand the test of time. Without reinforcement, the skills you train for may not be something your learners can access a few weeks, months or years down the road.

One of the best ways to drive retention is through practical application. Many skills developed during training are used frequently on the job. They are, therefore, reinforced every time a worker completes a relevant task. However, when it comes to uncommon events, training retention is a challenge of its own.

Uncommon events here refer to situations that aren’t likely to occur often, but are critical to address properly should they arise. This could mean emergency situations, such as protocol for a fire or robbery; equipment breakdown, especially for machinery that is usually low-maintenance; or unexpected changes in business structure. These events are important to train for, but a lack of day-to-day relevance can make learner retention difficult. Here are a few strategies you could use to prep your learners for these uncommon events in your business.

  1. Find a way to practice

To avoid the pitfalls of the forgetting curve, information needs to tie in to real world activities and challenges, and learners should also be able to re-learn information with more ease than they did the first time around. It can be difficult to weave relevance into training for uncommon events. Helping your learners understand why such training is critical is a great first step.

From there, your learners will need some way to practice for these uncommon events from time to time. This could mean creating simulations, holding drills or providing refresher courses as time goes on. For instance, you could periodically schedule events that touch on uncommon tasks, hold quarterly team meetings to check in and ensure everyone is up to date, or even simply send reminder emails on the subject every few months. Practice and periodic reminders promote effective recall.

  1. Break the content down

One major factor that contributes to forgetting is information overload. Retaining information depends on initial absorption, and the more learning material involved at once the amount of time necessary to absorb it increases. Learning is also more effective when spread out rather than condensed into one session. To take advantage of this, develop training that takes advantage of the microlearning trend. Small, easy-to-digest sections of information are much easier to recall. An added bonus is that concise learning sessions make for an easier review later on.

  1. Use elearning to your advantage

An advantage to technology-based training is the potential for learners to go back and reference what they’ve learned as they move forward. Even without the use of an LMS or portal, creating a company training database can make a big difference. By storing information relevant to uncommon events in a database, you allow learners to outsource some of their cognitive load. This means your learners to devote more energy to day-to-day relevant tasks—without sacrificing understanding and preparation for uncommon events.


What uncommon events might you need to train for in your business? How can you improve learner retention for those events?