As a trainer, have you ever wondered why the information you provide often doesn’t “stick?” Memory is more complicated than most of us think. Take this quiz to find out what you already know.
True or False?
1. Learners who can perform a new learning task well are likely to retain it. (T/F)
2. Immediate memory will dump input in 30 seconds or less. (T/F)
3. Aerobic exercise improves memory and cognitive function. (T/F)
4. Lifting weights improves memory and cognitive function. (T/F)
How well did you do? Here are the answers. (Citations for these facts are at the end of the article.)
1. FALSE. Even if a learner performs a new learning task well, chances are high it will not be permanently stored in memory.
3. TRUE. Aerobic exercise builds grey and white matter in the brains of older adults. Research has also shown that more aerobically fit grade-schoolers perform better on cognitive tests.
4. FALSE. No studies have found a link between weight training and cognitive function.
3 Types of Memory
As a trainer, you want your participants to store important material into their long-term memories. But to get there, data must first pass through at least two other brain “portals.”
Immediate memory is simply how the brain deals with all the sensory input we receive. We can think of it as a temporary “clipboard.” Picture yourself calling the local pizza parlor. Chances are that after you dial, you forget the number—there is no reason to keep it on the clipboard.
We’d go crazy if we held onto all the data we receive. Immediate memory gives us the chance to receive it, then dispose.
Working memory is also a temporary memory. It’s where we consciously process the input we receive. We can think of it as a worktable where we take apart and re-arrange input in order to eventually delete or store it somewhere else. Conventional wisdom holds that we can process up to 7 chunks of data at a time.
Typically, we can only process input intently for about 10 minutes in working memory before losing focus. To prevent the material from fading, we must quickly use it in a different way. In a training situation, this could involve applying the information through an activity, like solving a case study, building a model, etc.
In order for information to encoded into the learner’s long-term storage, it must meet two criteria:
• Does the information make sense? (Does the learner understand it?)
• Is the information relevant? (Can the learner connect it to past learning and current needs or interests?)
Think of the training YOU do. How well does it meet these 2 criteria?
How Can I Increase What My Students Retain?
Sadly, you can probably now guess that the odds are stacked against your learners’ remembering everything you teach. Here are four helpful techniques to help boost retention:
Increased oxygen and the positive feelings that result from laughter improve the probability that students will remember what they learned.
Make clear what the students will be able to do as a result of the lesson.
State the objectives at the beginning of class, and return to them as you move from one chunk of content to the next.
Provide prompt, specific, and corrective feedback.
Frequent, brief quizzes are more helpful to retention than one large test at the end of the unit.
Use Closures Frequently.
After presenting a chunk of material, use a closure. This helps enhance both sense and meaning, and facilitates the material’s ride to long-term storage.
Remember that a closure is not a “review,” in which the teacher does most of the work. In effective closures, students mentally rehearse and summarize the concepts you’ve covered.
A Great Closure Strategy
Say something like, “I’m going to give you 2 minutes to think of the three causes for _________. Be prepared to discuss these causes,” or “Review these two rules in your own mind before we learn the third rule.”
Be sure to provide adequate time for reflection. Usually, 1-3 minutes to mentally review is enough.
Important: Follow these moments of reflection by getting students to stand, move, and deliver. Get them out of their chairs, standing face to face. Then instruct them to take turns explaining what they have learned to each other.
Also-ensure accountability. Clarify that you will call on several students at random to hear their thoughts.
Remember: You CAN boost retention. Just use these simple techniques!
* Facts from “How the Brain Learns,” by David Sousa. Corwin Press 2006, and Wired Magazine, May 2008
Guila Muir is the premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills. Find out how she can help transform you from a boring expert to a great presenter: www.guilamuir.com
© 2008 Guila Muir. All rights reserved.
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