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ATD Blog

Memories Are Made of This

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

In the December issue of TD at Work, "Tap Memory Strategies for Learning Success," Alexandria Clapp and Lauren Devine share with learning and development professionals—and anyone seeking to improve their learning and retention abilities—the importance of memory to learning, why forgetting is also critical, and what metacognition is and how it factors into learning.

In a world of Google, wikis, and a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, some will ask why it’s important to memorize information. Just look it up, they may suggest. But, as the authors point out, “New memories build on prior knowledge, and particularly when new information is connected to concepts we already know, we more easily and quickly learn that new information.”

Despite how much we may hate it, forgetting is also important. To optimize performance, our brains forget things we don’t need, allowing us to be more efficient. Finally, metacognition is about our brain’s ability to monitor learning. Metacognition processes include planning, monitoring, assessing, and adapting. Consider these questions: What is the best way to learn something? Do I need to increase my attention? And what should I do differently next time?

It’s Not That Straightforward

When considering memory and learning, however, it’s not enough to think about these processes. There are other factors playing a role. Think about what happens to your ability to focus and learn when you’re tired or sluggish, distracted by thinking about a sick child or an argument, or hungry while working on an empty stomach.
L&D professionals, managers, and others can keep these things in mind when in a training course or performance. Plan healthy snacks during your course, and include breaks and opportunities for learners to get up and move.


Memory Strategies for L&D

When designing and delivering training, there are many strategies beyond movement, healthy eating, and rest that L&D professionals can implement.

“Space out lessons and incorporate practice time in the learning process,” advise Clapp and Devine. This requires extra effort on behalf of learners, which—like physical exercise building muscles—strengthens connections.
Interleaving is a second strategy to improve learning. Rather than focusing on one topic, interleaving strategically mixes or alternates material. Think about devoting learning time to problem solving, followed by demonstrating empathy, and then communication, for example.

Breaking down information, or chunking, reduces learner cognitive load. You might reduce the amount of content on a PowerPoint slide, or ask yourself or the subject matter experts you’re working with, “What needs to be covered during a course versus what’s interesting but optional?”


Tools to Share With Learners

Learners can also use spacing following a training course. In their workdays, they may take time to practice a new skill that was covered. As it’s too easy to get caught up in our day-to-day work, L&D teams can improve the chances that learners will practice by giving them a template during training, encouraging learners to commit to practicing or reviewing the material at a specific time. A facilitator can also send a periodic email with a content reminder.

A second tool to share with learners is mind mapping, a visual organization of training concepts and ideas. A facilitator might incorporate time in the training for learners to draw concepts after a 20-minute period of instruction.

Remember flashcards from your school days? We used them for a reason. They still work for retrieving key concepts or definitions.

What techniques will you fold into your next training design or delivery?

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

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