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Training for retention and results

Have you ever delivered a training session to a group of students, only to come back the following week and realise they have forgotten everything they learnt?

Unfortunately, most trainers don’t realise that the retention of information is the number one objective of training. Little attention is paid to how to increase a student’s retention of information and application of what they are taught. Training with an intention of retention is an art in itself and all information and activities must be strategically designed and set up with the sole focus of learning and retention.

Through my experience teaching the TAE qualification to over 1,000 new trainers, one of the biggest assumptions that I see trainers make is that everything that is said, shown and done is automatically remembered by students. The short-term memory can only hold about seven items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time. This is very often ignored and trainers are sometimes surprised when students can’t remember what was covered in each class to the level that they expected.

This article will teach you how to make your information ‘sticky’ i.e. information will stay in your student’s memory and will be able to be easily retrieved for future application.

The two things that create long-term retention are relevance and repetition. For information to be retained, ultimately there must be a need and drive for the information itself to be taken in.

Survival needs drive all learning and the brain is constantly sorting for the facts that are relevant to its needs. Let’s think about the things that we find most easy to remember, like our phone number, or if we are travelling overseas and we learn a phrase such as ‘Can I have a beer?’ these survival type items are things people make a commitment to learning. Therefore, we need to keep in mind that a student’s brain is constantly sorting for relevance and need and if there isn’t any, the information will be lost.

‘Memory consolidation’ is the actual technical term for the process where the brain takes short term memory items and places them in the long term memory, however as trainers, we need to make a shift from being delivery focused, to retention focused so that the consolidation can occur.

Repetition over time is the key to helping students gain and retain skills and information. We must encourage and create opportunities for the same content to be revisited within 3-4hrs of the first exposure, 24 hrs later, 7 days later and then 14 days later. However, at the end of the day, the time between exposures is less important than the amount of exposures and attempts. I have a belief as a trainer that it takes a person AT LEAST 10 attempts, before mastery or comprehension is achieved of any task or retention of one piece of information is accomplished.

Here are six simple tips that you can use throughout your training sessions to engage and enhance your student’s memory retention:

1. Let the student become the trainer

After you have taught a piece of content, try getting your students to then teach the same content to one another. This will create more relevance and need and accelerate their understanding. It will also force them to ‘get it right’ in their own minds.

2. Chunk appropriately

Unfortunately, most trainers simply teach too much, too soon, and this is a recipe for disaster. Only ever teach content in three to seven ‘bits of information’ at any one time. If you are teaching a ten step process, teach the first three steps first, then review, then teach the next three steps, then review the full six steps, then teach the remaining four steps and then finally, review the entire ten steps.

3. Use crazy metaphors

Ever heard a story that was so gross or had an experience that was so emotional that you will never forget it? This is because emotional, weird and out of the ordinary stories, analogies and metaphors STICK in the brain, whilst ordinary or boring ones fade into the background and become white noise. You must JOLT the brain so that it pays attention. Exciting, emotional, shocking, positive and engaging stories and analogies can be used to do this. A great analogy to even describe a bad delivery could be like “Throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks.” Stop and think, what fun metaphors or analogies could you come up with that is relevant to the content that you teach?

4. Get your speed right

Trainers need to be trained to talk, however we also need to train ourselves to talk to BE REMEMBERED. Most people talk without thinking about how they are being heard. When you are teaching, it isn’t about what you say, but what is heard that is most important.

Choose to have a new belief in your mind – “Why say it, if the other will forget it?” As such, you MUST slow down…….. and pause between key points (Barrack Obama is exceptional at doing this). Speak naturally, but when you want a word to be remembered, slow down, emphasise it or come up with a way to make it BOLD.

5. Use repetition, without being repetitive

To increase retention, you don’t need to force your students to rote learn something by saying the same thing fifty times over and over, that would probably result in you being thrown out of the classroom by your own students! A strategic way to repeat yourself, without being repetitive, is to simply increase the level of exposure to the content. By a trainer asking students to write the information down, the students are both using the information and reflecting on the information. This can also be done verbally by saying the same thing in three different ways, as it keeps the mind engaged.

6. Review your review

I can’t emphasise enough about the importance of review activities. Review and repetition are very different. Review activities are set up so that a student can link content to a wider context (i.e. their workplace or personal life) and by doing so, greater relevance is generated. This can be done by simply asking questions to your group such as “What is the biggest lesson that you have learnt today?” or “How will you apply that going forward?”. Just remember that without review, there will be no personalisation of the learning and the learning will be lost.

By using the above tips and having the mindset shift to focus more on retention than delivery, your results will sky rocket.

Have fun and as always, keep in touch as we always love to hear more success stories from our past and current students.


Marc Miles

Plenty Training RTO number 32371