Making Learning Stick


It is estimated that 80% of training dollars are wasted every year by North American companies. The truth is that the majority of corporate work cultures are not conducive to best teaching and learning practices. These workplaces are fast-paced, stressful environments where employees’ brains are overtaxed and in constant overload. This reality carries on to corporate training efforts where learning is often crammed into one or two day events designed to teach a plethora of new principles in a short period of time. This is a recipe for disaster as odds are that the learning principles will never be encoded into the long-term memories of workshop participants.

Unfortunately, online learning suffers from the reality that it is difficult to capture learners’ attention among so many competing distractions – reading and replying to emails, trying to cope with background noise and interruptions by colleagues, reading pressing documents on one’s desk, etc.

Emerging knowledge of the brain has taught us that there are five critical ways to encode newly-learned principles in the human brain. These often run counter to actual training practices in modern organizations. Work by the NeuroLeadership Institute concludes that, if you want to maximize ROI on your training & development initiatives and make learning stick on a longer term basis, it is important to understand the following five learning principles:

    1. Focused attention – One must be paying full attention. This increases the probability that one is engaging his/her hippocampus and the probability of successful memory formation.  Research concludes that divided attention hurts encoding (the hippocampus is not engaged).
    2. Levels of processing – Encoding is enhanced when one attends to information on a deeper semantic level (thinking about what things mean, how they fit together or reminding oneself of previous experiences).
    3. Distributed practice – If one wants to remember something, one is better off studying information with a period of time in between (as opposed to repetitively studying information all at once; at one point in time). The rest interval between study periods allows memories to partially consolidate.
    4. Context – Context involves where one was when he/she experienced something and  can serve as a good cue to recover memories. External context contains stimuli that become associated with the learned material and that are useful clues for eliciting retrieval of these memories.
    5. Generation – Generating information leads to better retention than simply reading it. For example, continuing to discuss what you’re learning after studying improves retention.

Let’s start re-thinking our training & development programs and apply fundamental neuroscience principles that are proven to make learning stick.  Not only will the ROI on these programs significantly increase – so will their impact on your business.

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