Review what you've learnt to increase retention.
Have you ever taken a training course, read a business book, or learned a new skill, but then forgotten almost everything about it within a few weeks?
When you don't have the chance to apply new knowledge, it's easy to forget what you have learned. This is why it's so important not only to take notes, but also to review what you have learned regularly, so that you can remember it for the long-term.
In this article, we look at the benefits of reviewing information, and we explore several strategies that you can use to do this effectively.
When we learn new information, we remember it best immediately after we have learned it. We then forget details as time passes. Even after a few days, we may be able to recall only a little of what we initially learned.
To remember what we've learned over the long-term, we need to move information from short-term memory (what we're currently thinking about or aware of) into long-term memory.
To do this, we need to review what we've learned, and we need to do this often. It takes time to commit information to long-term memory, and reviewing information helps us do this.
As well improving your learning, these strategies are also useful in day-to-day business situations, such as when you want to remember client details or recall information for a presentation.
We'll now look at some simple strategies that you can use to remember information over the longer term.
Begin by spending a few minutes reviewing material immediately after you've learned it. This helps you confirm that you understand the information, and reduces the time needed to "relearn" it when you review it again in the future.
As you re-read material, use effective reading strategies to make sure that you're reading efficiently and intelligently. For instance, if you've just read a chapter in a business book, you may only need to review section headings and the conclusion to start fixing information in your memory.
Rewriting and reorganizing your notes is another great way to review information.
This might seem like a waste of time at first. However, rewriting can be a very effective method for reinforcing what you've learned. Research shows that the act of rewriting notes helps us clarify our understanding.
One way to do this is to put the information you have learned into Mind Maps. These are especially good for rewriting notes, because they force you to make connections between concepts and themes.
You can also simply jot down key points in bullet form, or tidy up any original notes.
Remember – it takes repeated effort to move information into your long-term memory. So, it's important to review information frequently.
It's best to carry out a review after a day, after a week, and after a month; and then to review your notes every few months thereafter.
Again, you'll also find it useful to write notes during these regular reviews. Try jotting down what you can remember about the subject, and then compare these notes with your original ones. This will show you what you've forgotten, and will help you refresh your memory.
Reviewing learned information is the final step in the SQ3R process. SQ3R (which stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review) is a particularly potent method for getting the greatest benefit from your reading.
To remember what we've learned, we need to commit information to our long-term memory. A great way of doing this is by reviewing information regularly.
To review information, revisit learning material straight after you've learned it, using an effective reading strategy.
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Ellis, R.A, Taylor, C.E, and Drury, H (2005) 'Evaluating Writing Instruction Through an Investigation of Students' Experiences of Learning Through Writing,' Instructional Science, no 33. (Available here.)
Scientific American (2007) 'How does short-term memory work in relation to long-term memory? Are short-term daily memories somehow transferred to long-term storage while we sleep?' [Online.] Available here. [Accessed 29 November 2011.]