Theory into Practice

There’s a big dilemma in Learning and Development within business and that is, how do we ensure that our learners do what they have learnt?

Working within eLearning it seems that compliance is the main driver. Demonstrable outcomes are secondary to ensuring that staff have looked at a training package and passed a test or assessment to show that they are competent. But how do we ensure that our staff apply their learning in a meaningful and useful way?

Before I examine the solution, I will first define the problem.

Certainly within our learning structure (with some exceptions) learning events are seen as one-offs, within eLearning, for example, we release training, expect the staff to take it once and then apply the principles independently.

The issue with this model is that people forget, Will Thalheimer (2006) provides an example of what happens after training has finished.


As can be seen, once training finishes staff generally begin to forget what they have learnt. Thalheimer identifies that learning takes place very quickly, but then again, so does forgetting. This can provide real barriers to applying things that have been learnt, particularly if they have been forgotten.

So how can we address the forgetting curve?

Thalheimer identifies spacing learning events out in order to ensure that learners have their memory jogged at certain intervals to help them remember.

Julie Dirksen (2016) identifies that incorporating spaced learning with practice can allow learners to develop new practical skills. She argues that learning tends to be very information led.

“Most learning experiences are structured around lots of new information” (Dirksen, 2016)

She then puts forward an idea as outlined below;

“… allow the learner to acclimate and assimilate the information before moving to the next level” (Dirksen, 2016)

This approach is also echoed by others, Stella Collins refers to psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus when she states;

“When you read you forget 80 per cent of what you’ve learned 24 hours later. When you learn without meaning and without repeating the memories later you are very likely to forget most of what you learned.” (Collins, 2016)

The idea of repetition and spaced repetition is a common theme with all of these writers. So how can this be applied to help staff to apply what they have learnt to their day-to-day practice?

The answer seems to be in structured learning experiences that are incorporated into the working environment. Towards Maturity identified that, of companies identified as being within the “Top Deck” (i.e. identified as providing some of the best L and D provision in the country) 85% of them “.. agree that their approach is shaped by models that support learning directly in the flow of work.”(Towards Maturity, 2016).

In reference to the earlier posts I have made, I believe that the 70:20:10 model, integrated with Electronic Performance Support Systems and solid mentoring should allow learners to apply their theory to practice. We need to ensure that staff have access to on-demand learning that supports their working practice. I have found this area of L and D fascinating and am looking forward to researching further into this practice.


Collins, S; (2016); “Neuroscience for Learning and Development”; Kogan Page

Dirksen, J; (2016); “Design for How People Learn”; Second Edition; New Riders

Thalheimer, W; (2006); “Spacing Learning Over Time”; Retrieved March 24th, 2017, from

Towards Maturity; (2016);  “Unlocking Potential, releasing the potential of the business and its people through learning”; 2016-17 Learning Benchmark Report.

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