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Classroom based learning


Can anyone point me to research that indicates how long classroom based learning is retained after the learning event.

9 Responses

  1. How long is a piece of string?

    There is a lot bound up in your simple question. Firstly, and without getting too philosophical, what do you mean by learning? It is not a static process. You might hear a piece of information, reflect on it (subconsciously as well as consciously), connect it to your past experience, encounter a problem where it might be useful, adapt what you know to fit the situation; store it, ditch it (or try to), mould it, remember it (or try to), use it. Each of these stages can take seconds or months. At each stage the learning can evolve, grow, stagnate, come to life or degrade.

    Then there is the type of learning – riding a bike, becoming a better leader, remembering your budget commitments, understanding the financial markets, knowing why you should get expenses claims right, listening, interpret statistical data (like election results), working as a team, expressing yourself – and that is just MPs. Then there is the quality of the learning experience – how long, how good, how well presented, how relevant to you right now; whether you were just told, got to ask questions, discussed it with others, read it, saw others use it, tried it out, got feedback; whether it was all theoretical, practical, visual, told as a powerful and emotional story; discovered by you, emerged from interactions with others, offered as an idea, pushed down your throat.

    Of course there is also the human factor – were you interested, half asleep, fired up, stressed, engaged with the topic, getting on well with others, in a bad mood, overloaded with all the other learning, confused, out of your depth, excited, curious; do you have a good memory, have you already got a flair for the topic/skill, are you depressed, under-confident, disillusioned; did you like what you were learning, believed in it, wanted to give it a go; were you mentally, psychologically and physiologically at your best; were you hungry, cold, taking drugs; getting support, in a good atmosphere, wanting to be there.

    And having learnt – will you get chance to reflect, rehearse it (mentally or actually), try it out soon, talk it over with colleagues, review your notes, set yourself goals, integrate it with what you already do; how is your journey; what do you immediately come back to on your desk, in your home life, your boss’s expectations, your peer’s support or otherwise; will you share your learning, extend it by reading, researching, finding out what others know and do; will your learning really be valued, will it be tough to use, or will you and all around you celebrate the great success it brings.

    If you can answer all those questions, I probably still couldn’t tell you how long learning takes to degrade – whatever that means. But what I can tell you is that the consolidation, application and cascading of learning is every bit as crucial as the initial learning process. A farmer friend of mine once described what it is like to be a dairy farmer – get it, grow it, milk it.


  2. Why?
    Hi John

    Why do you need to know? Statistics relating to learning are usually flawed so I wouldn’t trust any of them.

    The reason is as stated above…first you have to quantify “what is learning” which is impossible.



  3. Teaching Methods and Retention
    Motorola did some work in the mid-1990’s on this – info on

    Effectively, the more involved the learners are in the process – the more retention. An issue related to this is “How do you refresh learning?”

    Jeremy Hall

  4. A very important question

    I disagree with some of the comments posted to your answer. We shouldn’t think that learning retention is something impossible to measure or that we shouldn’t consider it. As a corporate trainer learner retention is one of my major KPIs, if my students forget everything I teach them my job is on the line. We need to do as much as we can when designing and delivering our courses to increase learner retention. This is going to be a multitude of factors including matching the learning context to the performance context, creating stimulating activites and stimulating delivery from the instructor.

    One of the best people to write on this subject is Dr Will Thalheymer. Go to his website at:

    He has many reports and papers for free download. Download this report: ‘Providing learners with feedback part 1’ I think it will help in answering your question.


  5. Retention
    Hi Mark

    I don’t think John was disagreeing with the fact that retention is important or that it can’t be increased by using a variety of training methods and resources.

    The problem lies with attaching percentages to the *research* as it is flawed research. We don’t always have to give numbers to quantify what we do.

    Use a variety of resources and ensure ALL of your delegates are engaged and you will have maximum retention. Thats it! No research or % required…



  6. Classroom Learning Post-event Retention Rates
    Hi John!

    Your question had me dig deep in my files to find a presentation I delivered at the World of Learning Conference and Exhibition back in 2002, when I shared the top-level findings of one piece of research in this area by The Research Institute of America.

    Percentage of classroom learning retained after (time period):

    33 minutes – 58% (not sure why they chose 33 minutes!)
    1 day – 33%
    5 days – 28.7%
    10 days – 24.4%
    15 days – 20.1%
    21 days – 15%

    I don’t have the details of the underlying methodology I’m afraid, but hopefully a quick Google will uncover the background.

    On a related note of “transfer of learning rates”, I’ve can also share the following:

    Only 15% of training is put into practice back on the job (Source: Tannenbaum, Yukl, 1992)
    80% of trainees do not fully apply new skills and knowledge (Source: Broad, Newstrom, 1992)
    Only 10% of training expenditure results in learning transfer (Source: Georgenson, 1982)

    The last of these has been termed “training’s dirty secret” in the past!

    To the best of my knowledge, these last three studies were also based on classroom training, given that CBT was only just starting to emerge then.


  7. Classroom based learning

    Thanks for your helpful comments. It’s a simple enough question that gets sidetracked by academic responses like ‘what is learning’ etc, so thanks for your straighforward reply.


  8. Point well made
    I couldn’t agree more, a simple question requires a simple response!

    Can I just add that the amount that is retained and the length of this retention will vary on a number of factors in my experience.

    Firstly, the approaches you adopt in the classroom…for instance if you just lecture only 5% will be retained, but if you demonstrate 30% and if you then have them showing each other how to do it the retention can increase to 90%.

    See the learning pyramid at

    I suppose the length of this retention would then depend on whether the user is using the system all the time or only sporadically.

    Just some thoughts for the melting pot.

    Debz =D

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