Four theories for better learning

When training staff, it is not enough to give them the right information; they also have to digest it and remember it.

When training staff, it is not enough to give them the right information; they also have to digest it and remember it.

If you have ever handled the task of teaching staff information security basics, you know how tricky it can be. Those out of touch with IT tend to have trouble registering new information on the subject, and they’re also quick to forget it. They also don’t always see the point of drills. All in all, training isn’t always effective.

Effective training and retention are critical links in the corporate cybersecurity chain. As in other fields of education, the psychology of memory — known patterns of memorization and information reproduction — becomes useful in cybersecurity training. Here are four useful tricks that can enhance the retention of learned facts.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found through experimental studies of memory that humans forget up to 60% of the information they receive within the very first hour. Ten hours after the learning session the memory retains 35% of data. Six days later about 20% remains, and from there the curve enters a stable plateau — about that much should be retained even after one month.

Ebbinghaus continued his experiments to demonstrate that repeating the memorized material reduced the rate of forgetfulness, and that more repetitions led to better information capture. Our takeaway is that imparting new information once is not enough for proper training. The best way to memorize information is through repetition, using the method Ebbinghaus developed based on his experiments.

The Reminiscence effect

Another experimental psychologist, Philip Ballard, discovered that people reproduce information better two to three days after learning it than immediately after they learn it. His experiment was very simple: He gave test subjects material to memorize and asked them to reproduce it right away and then again after a few days.

We do not recommend giving employees tests right after a lesson.

The Interference effect

Of course, it would be great to give staff everything they need to know in just one lesson. Alas, such a lesson will not prove very effective. The information that can get squeezed into human memory in one go is limited by a phenomenon psychologists call Interference.

The thing is, learning materials have to be spaced out a bit, or they can interfere with one another. Either old information interferes with storing new information, or new information causes learners to forget old information.

We agree that it’s a good idea to maintain intervals between lessons on different topics.

The Serial-Position effect

The first and last items in any series of stimuli are recalled best. For us, the important thing is that the effect holds true for any kind of learning materials: texts, videos, even work letters. Obviously, the most important information should be presented early in the course/lesson and near the end.

The effect does not manifest normally if the lesson contains emotional triggers, however. In that case, recollection is personal, not necessarily predictable.

Naturally, our colleagues consulted behavior psychology and information uptake and learning theory in creating the Kaspersky Automated Security Awareness Platform solution, which companies of any size can use to teach cybersecurity skills to their employees. Learn more about the solution and begin using it at the platform's website.