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How to Make Learning Stick

In order to keep up with the swift pace of technology changes and needs in the workplace, businesses must turn to training to keep their staff and systems up to date. Classroom learning on the job is necessary, but facilitating rapid learning can be frustrating and ineffective if it is not implemented correctly.

Training buyers often feel they get more bang for their buck if they can include more content in a training session. They believe they are doing their audience a favor (or adding value) by packing in the most information possible and asking the attendees to keep focused for three hours at a time or longer. As a result, less information is retained, making the training far less valuable than it could be.

What is AGES?

According to the NeuroLeadership Institute’s Journal article, The Science of Making Learning Stick: An Update to the AGES Model, neuroscience suggests that there are four principles which allow new learning to stick. The four principles, termed “AGES,” summarize how the brain retains new information:

  1. There must be sufficient attention (A) on the new material.
  2. Learners must generate (G) their own connections to knowledge that they already have.
  3. Moderate levels of emotion (E) are necessary.
  4. Coming back to the information regularly, or spacing (S), works wonders.

This AGES Model was first introduced in 2010 and was just recently updated.

Attention

Multitasking is the enemy of learning, and students should not be forced to juggle multiple things at once while trying to learn. Imagine this common classroom scenario: there is a busy slide to read at the front of the room and the lecturer is speaking at the same time. Both require language processing making it impossible to focus on both at once.

However, if the slide shows an image that is a good metaphor for the topic about which the speaker is talking, then the learner would not need to divide their attention (a distraction since the language and vision centers in the brain are separate).

The average attention span is only about 20 minutes before the brain needs a refresher; therefore, instructors should change focus every 20 minutes or so to allow the new knowledge to sink in before launching into the next block of material. A change of focus could be a hands-on exercise, a short quiz, a break out group activity, etc. to reinforce the lesson.

Another strategy for managing attention is taking care not to keep shifting attention from one topic to another. Fluctuating attention requires three brain processes: disengaging, moving, and re-engaging; the process takes time and it drains energy.

Trainers can keep students engaged and paying attention by bringing up what they already know and begin each topic by connecting prior knowledge to the new topic. Metaphors and analogies (or very short stories) are great for tapping into existing knowledge and facilitate making meaningful connections, which make learning stick.

Generation

Generation simply means creating your own connections. Even a good-faith wrong answer that is on the right track (coupled with some relevant and timely feedback) seems to help students take ownership of the information. Research shows that when we take the time and effort to find an answer, rather than just reading it, retention is increased.

Some instructors may have each person teach a small section to their peers. It has been shown that separate memory networks are involved when we teach compared to when we study passively.

Trainers may incorporate a pre quiz and/or a post quiz for each class/section. Receiving constructive feedback after getting an incorrect answer on a test causes the student to retain that information better than they would have if they had studied the correct answer for the same amount of time overall.

Generation also offers learners something to turn to after 20 minutes of listening to lectures and viewing demos, helping to keep their attention throughout the day.

Emotion

Emotion plays a powerful and complex role in the learning process, and emotions can make or break the brain’s ability to learn.

Let’s say a student has flown in for the all-day training. The first emotion is anxiety while seeing the emails come in while in class. The student is probably irritated by being pulled in so many directions. Having access to work email and outside projects encourages multitasking and interferes with paying attention, which causes stress for the learner.

By incorporating visuals, stories, novelty, and humor, the instructor can create positive emotional engagement. At the same time the trainer must avoid creating a charged emotional environment by hitting hot-button topics, such as stating political views, for example.

Spacing

Having some space between learning and review sessions is the most counterintuitive and yet perhaps most important part of AGES.

The most profound benefit of spacing is that it allows for sleep. Sleeping does wonders for synthesizing and assimilating new information, and it requires no cost, effort, or additional total time. Sleeping well at night allows new learning to morph into long-term retention.

In order to keep the information fresh, have students return to the material over the next day, week, or month. Revisiting it in intervals over a period of time will help the learner master the information and make it their own. At Accelebrate, we are now teaching more classes online where we spread the training out over a period of weeks, with training delivered in 90-minute increments, and are finding this to be very effective.

Conclusion

AGES is the secret to more effective training and greater retention for learners of all ages! To summarize:

  1. Start by paying attention to attention. Change focus every 20 minutes. Remove multitasking wherever you find it. Multitasking will make learning much less efficient.
  2. Once the learners have had a single focus of attention to a topic, guide them to self-generate connections to their existing knowledge.
  3. In the realm of emotions and stressors, positively emotionally engage your learners, maximizing positive connections with the class while pushing stressors aside.
  4. Finally, allow for spacing; that is time to sleep in order to refresh, renew, and let the information soak in for long term storage. If possible, revisit content in between learning sessions.
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