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15 Ways to Make Learning Memorable

Bob Little 

April 28, 2017

We’re increasingly told that the nature of learning is changing. In the pre-digital age, people were valued for what they knew – and what they could recall at will. Today, people are valued for where they find the information that they need.

Yet much of our education and training still emphasizes the need to learn new things. Consequently, the recent session on “Learning and the Mind” at the Learning Technologies conference in London attracted a sizable audience.

The session leader, Stella Collins, is the author of  “Neuroscience for Learning and Development.” The book explores the science behind creative training delivery. The tools, techniques and ideas that it contains aim to help trainers to guide their learners to become motivated, enjoy training sessions, pay attention, remember what is said, and apply what they’ve learned. In short, it helps them to make their training more memorable.

No More Boring Training

Collins, who is creative director of Stellar Learning and founder of the Brain Friendly Learning Group, believes that “there’s no such thing as a boring topic, just boring training. The single most important thing the L&D department can do to improve its impact at work is to help people learn more effectively.”

To achieve this, Collins advocates “turbo-boosting” training with five techniques taken from the neuroscience and psychology of learning.

Five Techniques to Boost Learning

Let’s take a look at Collins’ top five techniques to turbo-boost workplace training.

  • Guessing. “Introduce a topic by getting your learners to guess the answer to an introductory question. This helps them to retain the resulting information,” Collins says.
  • Sleep. “We all need to ‘sleep on’ learning to retain the things we’ve learned. A lack of sleep reduces our cognitive skills. Sleep allows us to lay down memories, and the point of having a memory is to increase knowledge and skills that help us perform better.”
  • Embroidery – and a nail file. Collins believes that trainers should “embroider” facts with strong images, and they should use a “nail file.” In other words, multi-sensory language makes what you say more memorable, because the information will be stored in more spaces in the brain. In turn, this builds a “bigger memory.” As Collins says, “It’s about supplying more ‘hooks’ to a memory so that you can find that memory again more easily.”
  • Reflection. Leave time at the end of a session for learners to reflect on what they’ve seen and heard, and tell them why they’re being asked to reflect in this way. Collins cites an article by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats, of Kenan-Flagler Business School. In their research, 15 minutes of reflection at the end of each training day led to a 20 percent increase in performance.
  • Making connections. We learn by making connections with what we already know. Emotional connections “help to ‘anchor’ memories in the brain,” Collins says. “We’re more likely to remember things about ‘stuff that might be dangerous to us.’ Repetition also helps. And we’re all aware of the power of stories to be memorable.”

Mind Maps and Accelerated Learning

“Collins’ techniques are well supported by the work of Tony Buzan, inventor of the mind mapping memory technique,” says Richard Lowe, director of training and digital learning solutions at Hewlett Rand. “Her views also have similarities with Colin Rose’s accelerated learning techniques.

“L&D professionals must understand how the brain retains and recalls information. The psychology of learning is a critical skill set for learning design practitioners. They need to incorporate greater learner recall within their instructional design, whether the learning is digital or delivered in a classroom.”

10 Tips for Memorable Learning

Lowe offers 10 tips for designing learning that’s easy to remember:

  • Use open questions. The philosopher Socrates used questions to facilitate reflection and debate, and to consolidate the learning cycle. It helps if you keep these questions “open.” So, remember the words of Rudyard Kipling: “I keep six honest serving men, they taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.”
  • Keep Instructional Structure Simple (KISS): Explain what learners will know and be able to do. Provide the content and guide their discovery. Evaluate their comprehension.
  • Use acronyms. Acronyms help learners to remember the steps or concepts that they apply during and after the learning.
  • Use conceptual models. Models provide a visual picture of processes, steps or frameworks. This makes it easier for learners to recall ideas.
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists. Lists help your brain to absorb facts and ideas. Stick to three, five, seven, or 10, because “good things come in threes,” four fingers plus one thumb equals five, the number seven is “lucky,” and 10 is a “round number.”
  • Use assessments. Assessments can be used before, during and after learning to aid recall and measure retention.
  • Use emotive content. Our limbic brain connects our emotional responses with intellectual brain function to help to lay down memory. Videos, stories, poems, and readings that produce an emotional response will create more memorable learning experiences.
  • Exaggerate critical points. This technique works, but use it sparingly or it will lose its impact.
  • Use familiar symbols – consistently. Symbols help our brains to categorize, code and store information, which makes it easier to recall.
  • Use action steps. Where possible, help the learner to create practical “next action” steps throughout the learning design. This will improve recall and application.

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2 comments on “15 Ways to Make Learning Memorable”:

  1. Masoud Kashani Learning wrote:

    Dear Sirs/ Madams,
    I read your article,i love learning the new skills and enhance myself.
    Your stuff are very practical and pragmatic.I will read and read and try to apply them in the real life usages.
    There is nothing more enjoyable than learning and transfer the knowledge to the others.

    I am m 58 years old living in Iran,i still feel that i am a beginner,they say the knowledge is open minded,
    Any way i acknowledge and appreciate the information.
    Yours Faithfully
    M.Kashani Momtaz

  2. Les Mester wrote:

    The function of the human brain is the basis for all learning and behavior. This is often overlooked by many . Bravo that you have included it (limbic brain functions) in the references. Great article!