28 November

7 Knowledge Retention Strategies for Effective Digital Learning

7 Knowledge Retention Strategies for Effective Digital Learning

Studies have shown that learners forget up to 60% of knowledge they have processed within 20 minutes – which is a big problem for digital learning professionals. Because how can learners obtain the learning outcomes if they are only retaining less than 50% of the information? So for this reason, utilising knowledge retention strategies in your instruction is key.

Knowledge retention strategies are methods you can incorporate into your instruction or training that have been shown to increase the learners’ ability to retain information. And to help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the top seven knowledge retention strategies. But first let’s dive into what influences knowledge retention in the first place.

What influences knowledge retention?

We know that knowledge retention is instrumental for learning. But what exactly are the factors that influence it? Below we cover three elements that each influence learners’ knowledge retention rates:

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There is a reason that repetition has been called ‘the first principle of all learning’. And it’s because repetition is highly influential to knowledge retention. Without our brains being repeatedly exposed to new information, we won’t form the pathways required to retain that information and recall it later. In fact, repetition has even been shown to improve long-term memory recall by up to 35%.

However, while repetition is an important component of knowledge retention, it doesn’t mean it is always beneficial. If the material is too repetitive, learners may quickly become bored, and lose interest and motivation. Therefore, when it comes to repetition, balance is key.


The role of association in learning is based on the principle of cognitive conditioning, which basically means that people group stimuli together. For example, word maths problems would be considered a type of learning exercise that incorporates association. As opposed to solving equation problems, learners can apply their learnings to real-life scenarios.

Association is so important for knowledge retention because it enables learners to more easily draw connections between the knowledge they have learned and real-life situations. For this reason, simulations, and other forms of practical learning are so beneficial for knowledge retention.


Motivation is a hugely important factor in learning and knowledge retention. After all, if learners aren’t motivated to learn, they will be less likely to focus their efforts and attention towards the learning material. Therefore, an important function of digital learning professionals is to help the learners stay motivated.

Setting goals, using extrinsic and intrinsic rewards and understanding how your learners enjoy learning can all lead to higher levels of motivation. In turn, these increased levels of motivation will lead to higher knowledge retention as well.

7 Knowledge Retention Strategies

There are various strategies that digital learning professionals can implement into their instructional design to increase knowledge retention among learners. Below are seven examples of strategies you can use to increase your learners’ knowledge retention.

1. Microlearning

Microlearning involves delivering small chunks of information in short bursts. And it has been shown to be a highly effective form of instruction to increase knowledge retention. One study even found that microlearning on mobile applications can help decrease the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which is a model that shows the average rate that people tend to lose information over time. One reason microlearning is so effective for knowledge retention is because microlearning tools often include repetition. However, microlearning is also a highly effective way to keep learners’ attentive and engaged.

2. Simulations

eLearning simulations are virtual scenarios that represent real-life situations and are intended to train and prepare learners. Because associations are such an important aspect of knowledge retention, simulations can be a great knowledge retention strategy. However, another reason simulations can be so effective for knowledge retention is because they can be done repeatedly. Unlike learning in real-life situations or on-the-job training, simulations are computer-based and can be completed over and over, without relying on real-word conditions or exposing learners to risk. For this reason, simulations are frequently used in healthcare, aviation, construction, manufacturing and many other industries.

3. Spaced learning

The benefits of spaced learning for knowledge retention are indisputable. Study after study have shown that spaced repetition spread out over longer periods of time can increase learners’ ability to retain information. However, the benefits of spaced learning don’t stop at knowledge retention. Some additional benefits of this strategy are improved problem solving, and a greater ability to transfer the learning to different contexts. So instead of exposing learners to concepts all at once, try to space out the learning in repeated intervals so that learners are repeatedly exposed to the information. 

4. Social Learning

Social learning is a theory of learning that proposes that people learn best through observing and imitating the behaviour of others. And because social learning is so motivating and helps learners develop associations, it can be a highly beneficial strategy for improving knowledge retention. Even if the course or training is entirely online, incorporating virtual group discussions, or group exercises can aid in knowledge retention. One example of social learning used in corporate training is a pilot programme by IBM in which social learning elements were incorporated into an online data science training course.

5. Feedforward

Feedforward is a concept developed by leadership pioneer, Marshall Goldsmith, that involves learners focusing on future behaviour as opposed to past behaviour. For example, as opposed to a learner getting feedback on what they did wrong in past assignments, they get feedforward on what they can do better in future assignments. This approach can aid with knowledge retention because it is a more motivating way to learn and develop skills. 

6. Multimedia

Multimedia learning involves using the aid of technology to deliver a blend of text, static images, animation, video and audio to instruction. And it can be an effective strategy for knowledge retention. One reason for this is because it enables learners to visualise information through images, diagrams and videos, which makes multimedia learning a particularly effective strategy for visual learners. According to Richard E. Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, multimedia also allows the brain to process information through multiple channels, thus leading to deeper understanding and higher knowledge retention.

7. Gamification

Gamification in eLearning refers to incorporating game-like elements into the instruction. Some examples of these elements are leaderboards, point systems and badges. Because gamification makes learning more fun, engaging and motivating, it can aid in knowledge retention. In fact, in a study that involved nursing orientation, gamification was even shown to lead to higher rates of knowledge retention than only traditional orientation methods. Apart from healthcare, gamification is already being used in a wide range of industries, as well as in schools and higher education.

Final thoughts on knowledge retention strategies

To ensure your learners are able to effectively retain the information they need to reach learning outcomes, prioritising knowledge retention strategies in instruction is vital. With knowledge retention strategies, you can minimise the seeping of information and give your learners the best chance of success.

To learn more about how to incorporate knowledge retention strategies into your eLearning instruction, obtaining a Professional Diploma in Digital Learning Design is a great start. You’ll not only be able to better support your learners with retaining knowledge, but also give your career a boost at the same time.

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