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The Science of Learning

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The Science of Learning


Many traditional training programmes waste resources, time, and money. This is because the millennial generation has adapted a new learning style. Today’s employees and learners have a short attention span and are easily distracted.

So, how can we make training more efficient?

The Forgetting Curve

As far back as 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, developed the “forgetting curve.” Through intense research and study, he proved that information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retrieve it.

The brain chooses what information to discard and what information to keep based on a simple algorithm. E.g.: If you learn a new work process, use that process that same day, and weekly after that, your brain identifies the information as important and stores that information effectively.

Alternatively, if you attend a seminar and only attempt to use the information weeks later, your brain will have discarded the information you require.



Learners Today

Recent research by Bersin by Deloitte shows the training challenges of the modern learner:


This isn’t all doom and gloom! There is good news. We can use science to improve learner outcomes.

To do this successfully, we need to understand how we learn.

How we Learn

You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to understand a few basic concepts when it comes to how we process and retain new information.
Information comes at us and we process it via an encoding method that takes place through our short-term memory (which has limited capacity.) We can only process 5 – 9 bits of information at a time, and some bits stay while others are discarded.

Then there is consolidation in learning. Scientists believe that the brain rehearses or replays this new information, finding connections with existing data or context. This makes the information relevant and relatable.

Retrieval is another vital key in the process of learning. Specialists believe that forced retrieval is the most effective form of information retrieval. This is also known as reconsolidation. Essentially, this means that our brains need to continually work to save the learning for retrieval at a later stage.

Myths Surrounding Learning

“Forgetting is memory failing.”

Neuroscientists say that forgetting isn’t failing, rather it is adaptive. We live in the digital age and are consistently being served new information. With this in mind, the brain filters out data that isn’t being used. Forgetting is a key component of the entire memory system, it helps us learn what is important and forget what is unnecessary.

“Relevant information will always be remembered.”

Re-reading textbooks, continuously reviewing materials and going over notes has not been proven to be an effective method of study.
How to use Science to Improve Employee Training

Bite Size Chunks of Information

Cognitive Load is the sum of mental effort used in working memory. The Cognitive Load theory says that we have mental restrictions and the brain can only process a certain amount of information at a time.

Too much information can cause an overload, therefore organisations need to cut down their training content into bite size chunks to lower the cognitive load. Shorter learning experiences/microlearning has become a popular choice for corporate training.

When microlearning is consistent, and on-going, an organisation drives continuous learning for employees, effectively building their knowledge over a period of time, and ultimately producing positive long-term behavioural change.

Training over Time

Science tells us to space out the learning process. Cramming bulk information in a short period of time is not effective. This kind of learning is effective in a high school environment because the goal is to simply pass a single exam – this does not apply in the work environment.

The skill and knowledge employees learn needs to be retained and utilised over a period of time, and there is a way to do this. This learning strategy is known as spaced repetition.

“The Spacing Effect” states that by spacing information out over time, long-term memory is improved.

Testing Learners

Testing increases learning more than any other study method. Incorporating quizzes, simulations, and tests into training programs doesn’t just measure the amount of learning that has taken place, it is vital to the learning process in its entirety.

The effects of testing increase long-term memory because learning is devoted to retrieving information.

Write to Remember

Writing is one of the most effective ways to improve learning retention. Taking notes doesn’t improve how much information we remember, rather, it helps us organise information into what is most important.

With this in mind, try to include writing exercises or essays in your testing. For example: ask learners to summarise their key takeaways from the course in their own words. This strategic approach will help in improving their learning retention.

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