You’ve seen it a million times. You train someone on a new skill. They know it cold in the training room.

Twenty minutes later, back on the job, it’s like they weren’t trained at all.

It’s not the learner’s fault. It’s psychology’s fault. Specifically, it’s an example of a phenomenon known as “event boundaries.”

Our brains tend to break up experience into events, rooted in a specific time and location.

As learners move to a new location, their brains dump data from memory, anticipating the need to focus on a new event. “When people pass through a doorway to move from one location to another, they forget more information than if they do not make such a shift,” researchers concluded.

(They also found that the forgetting happens whether the doorway is actual or virtual – an image of a door in a computer simulation, for example.)

Other event boundaries likely have a similar effect – for example, the bell at the end of a class, or a shift from classroom training to a role play.

If you view training as an “event,” you’ll be fighting the way the brain’s memory is structured. The solution: Carry the training beyond the “event boundary.” In other words, don’t treat it as an event, but an ongoing process. Follow up in the hallways; continue the discussions in the coffee room – and reinforce the training in the context of the job.

Source: Radvansky, et al., Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Further explorations, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, May 10, 2011.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *