Duct tape is renowned for its use in patching up repairs because of its ability to help things stick. What then is the duct tape for learning? How can we make sure that what we’ve learned is duct taped to our memory so the information is there when we need it? What approaches can we use when we design our materials so the knowledge sticks?
1. Quiz to retrieve facts or concepts from memory. Remember the Flashcards that quizzed you when you were learning the multiplication tables for the first time and how effective they were at getting you to retain the information? The same concept of responding to a simple quiz after learning something new has been shown to produce better results than massive amounts of highlighting and rereading of new information. Put down the highlighter and pick up the Flashcards because active retrieval strengthens memory.
2. Space out practice. Recalling the same information with lapses of time in between helps to lessen the forgetting curve…it takes more work to retrieve the answer, but learning tends to stick when it takes effort on our parts to retain information. People learn at least as much and retain it longer when they space their practice.
3. Base all new learning on foundational knowledge. Although there’s a limit to the number of new facts you can retain at any one time, there’s no limit to the connections you can make to the information you already know. Establish context and draw connections between existing content and new information, and the learning is unlimited.
4. Try to solve a problem before you know the answer. When a question is posed to you, your brain begins to try to solve the problem which leads to better long-term learning. For example, when a learning objective is posed as a question, the learner actively begins thinking about the answer. Solving problems allows learners to shift their perspectives and think about the information in a new and active way.
5. Tell a story. As children, most of us are told stories from a very young age; there is a beginning that sets the stage, a middle where the adventure happens, and an ending that provides a new way of looking at the world. Stories have an emotional component that makes people care about the outcome. They give meaning to data and facts, they’re easier to share, and most of all, they tend to be remembered more accurately and longer than learning that comes simply from facts and figures.
The next time you’re considering what training materials will help learners recall information on the job when they need it most, consider whether or not the materials incorporate any of these retention strategies--if they do, you’ve found the duct tape of learning!