Let Learning Sink In – To Make it Stick

I’ve found some interesting cognitive psychology research that I think you’ll find interesting because it can be applied to making learning stick.

  • Have you ever wondered why new learning needs to “sink in”?
  • Did you know that students who study right before an exam don’t do as well as those who study at least several days ahead of time?
  • Would you like some ideas for maximizing training retention and transfer?

Read on –

Scientists have known for over a century that we have two types of memory, short-term and long-term, located in two different parts of the brain.  Short-term memory is converted into the more stable long-term memory, which is then be drawn upon to solve problems and make decisions.

The process works this way.  The information is first gathered in the learning event through the senses and is processed in the brain’s short-term memory, where it is related to existing information already stored in long-term memory.  From here the new information is transferred to long-term memory storage and it becomes encoded into neuron patterns.  New synapses (spaces between nerve endings) are then formed through protein synthesis.  This process is called long-term potentiation and was first demonstrated by Nobel-winning scientist Dr. Erik Kandel.  The important point here is that t takes a few weeks for the protein synthesis and new neuron patterns to form.    

This is why we often say something new needs to “sink in”, and why students who cram right before a test don’t do as well as students who study a few days ahead or even the night before.  And this is why we need to provide spaced learning, repetition, and/or practice to help learners retain and apply the learning whether it is face-to-face, live virtual, e-learning, or a combination of these.

Here are a few suggestions to help learning sink in and stand a better chance of being applied:

  • Divide the learning into at least two events, spaced at least 3-4 weeks apart.   For ease in scheduling, consider a live virtual (“webinar”) or e-learning format for one or more of these learning events.  The potentiation research indicates that the longer the spacing, the better the retention.  This of course needs to balanced against other things that compete for memory space – if the learning is spaced too far, the initial learning may be completely lost.
  • Do not test at the end of the class.  Instead use the test to follow up, no sooner than two weeks after the end of the learning event.  The research clearly shows that allowing some time before testing will result in better learning and retention.  And remember, the goal is not to pass the test… the goal is to retain the learning so it can be used. 
  • Require participation in learning communities – discussion boards, blogs, communities of practice – as part of the class.  Don’t award credit for the class until a required number of posts are made in the community.  This serves to reinforce the initial learning, provide application ideas, and aid the brain in connecting new, short-term memory learning with long-term prior learning so that it can be used.

And the next time you need to remember something yourself, keep in mind that your brain needs time to form new neuron patterns and protein synthesis.  Let some time pass and then revisit the information.

Until next time….

Barbara

 

 

 

P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining

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