Think of your brain as a refrigerator. You put information in it to preserve and use later. When you need that information again you remember it, “taking it out of the fridge” so to speak. But what happens if you leave something in there for too long? In a fridge, old food goes bad and needs to be thrown out. In your brain, unused information gets tossed out too. This is a massive oversimplification, but you probably get the idea.
Quick, what was your second grade teacher’s name? If you don’t remember you’re not alone. Chances are you haven’t needed to know that for a long time, so you forgot it. No big deal. But that same phenomenon happens in the short term too. For instance, your association’s members will probably forget most of what they learn from your educational offerings within a week or so. (Hang in there, it’ll be okay, I promise).
What people learn in training is more important than recalling their second grade teacher’s name. So, why is it forgotten so easily? Let’s go back to the “brain fridge.” A member just finished a workshop at your annual conference. Their “brain fridge” is packed full of exciting new ideas, we’re talking Thanksgiving leftovers kind of thing. It doesn’t matter if there’s an “Important” label slapped on the leftovers’ containers, if the information just sits in the fridge it’s going to spoil. With the trip home, catching up on sleep, and then getting back to their usual routine all on the immediate schedule it’s not hard to see why they probably won’t think about what they learned for a few days. If you don’t use it, you lose it though.
Luckily, remembering fights off forgetfulness. In “brain fridge” terms, you need to take things out of the fridge for a little while and then put them back in. That way, your brain remembers what’s in there and realizes, “Oh, this is getting used. I need to hold on to this.” Food would go bad if you moved it in and out of a fridge over and over again. Fortunately, information doesn’t do that. Nor does it eventually dwindle down to nothing after you’ve used it a bunch of times.
Here are some ways you can help learners recall what they need to know:
- Send one question refresher messages after the training
- It’s recommended that these be sent at the two day, two week, and two month marks
- For multi-part training, make sure each part builds on the earlier ones
- Assign a follow up project that uses information or procedures from the training
- Provide contextual learning so learners can visualize how they can use the information
- Offer access to job aids or summaries of the main ideas so they can refresh their memories
- Ask learners to take notes during training and then share them with someone else after the training is over
- Follow up with learners after the training and ask them how they’ve used, or plan to use, what they learned
- Anything you can come up with that gets learners thinking about and, better yet, using the information right away
So, revisit your “brain fridge” and regularly pull out the information leftovers you need to remember. By taking the natural forgetting process into account and providing follow up activities for your learners, you can help them retain crucial information. Fight off forgetfulness by remembering to remember.
This was inspired by Art Kohn’s article series about the Forgetting Curve.
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If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
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