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The key to remembering and practicing what you've learned is to create a new process in the brain. People learn from their emotions most easily, e.g. a mistake, but people also relate to stories and analogies. Creating a discovery process, either through an experience or the Socratic method, is much more effective than spoon-feeding the material.

Finger with string tied around itTips for improving learning retention

Posted  on 7/23/09

Over a decade of experience boiled down to eight tips

Here are some lessons to incorporate into your training that help improve retention. As I work on this website, I'll elaborate on these some more, but here they are.

Some tips for aiding the retention of your message that can be used for any type of communication:

1. Determine the message you want your audience to remember and explain it at one level of detail greater than what you want them to take away. People have a habit of summarizing received information and recalling only the summary. To teach effectively, the teacher should have an understanding at two levels of detail greater than the message to be retained in order to explain it well.

2. People will have an easier time remembering if new knowledge is linked to old knowledge, especially through analogies and comparisons.

3. People remember narratives, with a beginning, middle, and end, much better than lists of topics so use stories to illustrate points.

4. Simulations are incredibly effective. Creating a meaningful situation where the new knowledge can be applied, like a case study, becomes experiential learning. Experiential learning involves the whole mind including our subconscious where habits are formed and broken.

5. Leading people through the Socratic method, asking questions to get the desired knowledge, creates a thought process in the participant’s mind that is much easier to recall later on than recalling the content of a lecture. All you need to do is jog the memory at one point and the person will be able to recreate the learning process.

6. Most e-learning is ineffective because it automates the content of the class, not the interactions where the real learning takes place. In short, it is a bad, boring lecture online. Reading the course material is usually just as effective and cheaper.

7. People remember their emotions. Creating a highly-charged, emotional environment, especially a negative environment, makes a memorable experience. (Just think about this for a minute and you’ll know it’s true. If you say something that hurts me, I’ll remember it. Not just that, I’ll relay the horrible thing you said, in exact words,  to all my friends and hold a grudge, possibly forever. If you tell me a joke that makes me laugh, I’ll remember later that you told me something funny.)

8. Of course, don't forget repetition and the old rule of tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell tem what you told them.

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