Use it or lose it - How to maximize your learning

Posted by Cathy Wylie on

After investing time, energy and money in training, how do you ensure you get the most out of your investment? The simple answer is to use what you have learned as soon as possible.

Research shows that people retain only a small fraction of what they learn, and without some intervention, very little of what they learn gets transferred back to the workplace.

Why is this the case? Your brain needs to work to encode, store and retrieve information. Encoding is how we take in new information. When you attend training, your brain works to relate the new information to past knowledge and experience. It creates associations between the new information and existing information that will allow you to remember what you have learned.

The new information is consolidated and stored in our short-term memory. Our short-term memory holds on to the information for only 30 seconds. Working with the new information moves it to our long-term memory. Once in the long-term memory, the information can be retrieved. We need to use the new information in order to flag this new information as essential. If we don’t use the information, the process of forgetting will take over.

How much are you likely to forget? In 1855, Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a study on forgetting which illustrates how quickly we forget information. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows that when we don’t use what we learn, we will forget about 75% of the new information within 6 days.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Providing retrieval opportunities will prompt your brain to encode the information as important and that it should be retained.

There are several ways to increase the retention of the information you learn in training.

During training, when you think of ways you will implement what you are learning back in your workplace, write down your ideas or discuss them with other students or with the facilitator. In skills training, take every opportunity provided to try out the new skills. This provides the retrieval opportunities your brain needs.

After training, try to put what you have learned into practice as soon as possible. If you are not going to be able to put your new skills or knowledge into immediate practice, try some of the following activities:

  • Talk to your supervisor about what you learned, how it relates to what is currently being done in the laboratory and any ideas you may have from the training that could be implemented.
  • Review your course notes and add additional comments or ideas about how you will implement what you have learned.
  • Create a short overview of what you learned to present to your co-workers.

What you do after training to retain the skills and knowledge you learned is critical to the long-term retention of that training and to your ability to apply the training back in your workplace. Take the time to consolidate your learning so you maximize the investment you are making in training.

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