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Combatting the Forgetting Curve: Use the Performance Walk

John Matura, InSource Manufacturing Systems Engineer | December 18, 2019
General Blog

During a recent technical solution client deployment, I overheard the conversation around pre “go-live” classroom training for operators. There wasn’t much confidence that the classroom material would be retained enough to be useful on the production floor. To make matters worse, it would take two weeks to train all the required individuals, since the training was designed for small groups, was very interactive, and employees worked on multiple shifts. The individuals who were trained first would have up to a two-week delay before the system “went live.”

These solution adoption concerns are not new but have been exacerbated by rapid technological changes. Back in 1885 the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus studied this issue. He was interested in learner retention after they left the training environment. The outcome was his discovery that information is exponentially forgotten from the time learners consume it. This is commonly referred to as the forgetting curve. Memory tends to decline over time when there is no reinforcement mechanism.

One method developed to address this issue is spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is reinforcing key pieces of information in small increments before it is forgotten. Classroom training, in this example, is mass repetition. Mass reputation is necessary in some situations, like explaining the overall technical solution to employees, but not ideal for transferring the practical detailed application knowledge to the shop floor. So, if spaced repetition helps with actual knowledge retention; what should be trained, how should it be done, where should it be done, and who should do it?

Micro-learning is a technique for selecting learning content. The concept is to select small, focused content that the learner / employee needs to comprehend and absorb in the short term. Again, contrast this to the classroom environment that could be characterized as macro learning. If navigating a new HMI is a critical short-term requirement, then a micro session on navigation might be appropriate. The content selected should be based on the criticality of the task associated with it and the comprehension of each individual learner / employee. A tool that InSource has developed to support this process is the Performance Walk.

A Performance Walk evaluates mechanical compliance to key operating requirements, understanding of those requirements, and ownership of a new process. A supervisor uses this tool during regular, structured interactions with employees at their workstations on the shop floor. The Performance Walk identifies any remedial training that might be required for an individual employee and can also be used to reinforce key concepts and required behaviors; i.e. spaced repetition.

Once the required training need has been identified using the Performance Walk, a focused micro-learning approach can be applied. The training content should be broken-down into small modules to help with knowledge transfer and retention. The key content points of these micro-sessions are then integrated into the Performance Walk so that the supervisor can have individual employee specific coaching and follow-up.

Now, where should the training/coaching occur? When appropriate, the micro-sessions should occur in the actual work environment. That way, instead of theoretical classroom examples, the instructor would be immersed in the production floor environment and be better equipped to help the employee understand and apply the learnings. There might be physical constraints that were not initially identified that impede the adoption of the new technology. I’ve been at locations were the HMI is difficult to get to or is positioned so far from the actual work station of the employee that just getting to it can be a challenge. Lighting is another common problem. These issues need to be identified and corrected before the employees can be expected to support and adopt the new technology processes.

Finally, who should do it? The most effective and sustainable training reinforcement and coaching should be done by the supervisor. The supervisor’s natural role should be to support the employee in completing their required tasks. The Performance Walk is a systematized method of accomplishing that. Using the Performance Walk the supervisor has the structure and tool to identify needs, follow-up on current performance, coach critical elements, and support adoption.

By using the InSource methodology of integrating People, Process, and Technology for Disciplined Execution we can support you on your continuous improvement journey. The result is solution adoption by the employees on the shop floor. This approach can be used when a new solution is deployed or when an existing solution never quite delivered the expected results. Lack of employee adoption is a common theme of many companies. Instead of looking for another solution, one approach might be to redeploy/re-launch what currently exists and isn’t quite working. Call us, we can help.

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