How to Create a Successful Employee Training Plan

By Marilee B. Sprenger

Training employees is expensive, so it’s crucial to know how to make training both enjoyable and productive. So spend your money where it matters — on your trainees’ brains. If you design trainings with your employees’ minds in mind, the training will be a success for everyone.

In order to present a training with the brain in mind, you might consider several basic brain rules. Brains handle information best if it has been chunked into workable, understandable, easily stored bits of information. If you want the trainees to truly attend to the learning, it must be interesting and engaging. Boring is not an option. Along with those needs, the brain requires occasional breaks, some downtime in order to process the new information. And finally, brains like to work together. Trainees gain from each other’s experiences, and group work lowers stress and raises memory.

  • Brains like chunks. The best trainers understand how memory works and chunk information into memorable parts. The human brain remembers best what is presented first, and remembers second best what is presented last. The middle of any training session is the least-remembered section.

    At the beginning of a training episode, the trainer needs to hook trainees with something novel or emotional and then begin teaching the new idea, skill, or concept. This prime time for retention may last no longer than 20 minutes. The brain needs time to process if you want your employees to retain information, so provide some downtime in the first 20 minutes. Prime time 2 may be a review or a different approach to the information that was presented during prime time 1.

    This method is much different from the old training adage which allowed no processing time: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”

  • Brains don’t attend to boring things. People remember novelty. Advertisers use this concept when they try to convince you to remember their product over others. The drawback is that the novel or surprising element, though very memorable, makes you less likely to remember the other information in the list. The trick is to make the novel idea a trigger for the other information.

    Changes that make trainings more interesting include a change of state (actual physical change, such as changing position or a break to introduce oneself to three other participants), a change of presentation (leaving the lecture format for anything from a video clip to participatory segments), and a change of activities (hands-on, visual, and shared information work well).

  • The brain likes breaks. Breaks are necessary to rest and prime your brain for learning. The adult brain can focus for no more than 20 minutes. What happens when those 20 minutes are up can transform your effective training into one that is not only ineffective but into an outright nightmare.

  • The brain likes company. Some research suggests that putting trainees in pairs or small groups increases each trainee’s retention of the material. Pairs might increase retention about 6 percent and groups of three or four people may bump that up to 9 percent. Why? Because it provides an opportunity to rehearse information and because the personal interaction tags the memory as an emotional memory — the most powerful system in the brain.

    Put participants in groups with different people from the ones they chose to sit with at the beginning of the training. Splitting up friends and friendly co-workers lowers the risk of trainees losing focus on the task and catching up on personal conversations.