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Can You Repeat That? Designing Courses for Peak Memory Retention

Can-You-Repeat-That_Feature.jpgStudies show that up to 70% of the material covered in your corporate training will be long forgotten—just 24 hours after the end of the course. This statistic is enough to increase the blood pressure of any instructor, whose entire task is to ensure that new information is retained by learners.

But it’s not entirely the instructor’s fault. Memory retention can be influenced heavily by course design, including the types of instructional strategies are employed. Pepperdine University offers a four-part process to improving memory and retention: GULP, which stands for Get it, Use it, Link it, Picture it. Let’s see how each of these steps might look in an online course.

Can-You-Repeat-That_File.jpgGet it

There’s a lot more to “getting it” than simply hearing or reading new information. Learners need to be in an optimal environment for absorbing new information, which means they need to be relaxed, motivated, and engaged. Designing the best instructional strategies are crucial here. For example, an interactive module is more likely to capture interest and hold attention than a 25-page PDF of text. Setting the stage so learners can “get” the information—and get it the first time, if possible—is the goal.

Can-You-Repeat-That_Tack.jpgUse it

If a new piece of information isn’t used, the brain is going to decide that it’s not relevant and filter it out. And using it doesn’t have to mean sending learners out in the world to practice their new skills after the first lesson (think of the potentially disastrous consequences of sending new pilots out to fly on their own after their first class!). Using a new piece of information simply means incorporating it into the learner’s experience, though repeating it, writing it down, or reviewing it right away. Student pilots use flight simulators, for example, to use their new information in a different context. Assessments, reflective questions, and group discussions work well, too.

Can-You-Repeat-That_Clip.jpgLink it

While this four-part model might be new for you, you’re not likely to forget it. That’s because the word “gulp” is something you’re already familiar with. Acronyms are an example of linking new material to something that already has real estate in your brain. You can also map information to songs, familiar locations, or categories to help learners bolster memory of new concepts. This is a technique used widely in elementary schools, where students are expected to learn a vast amount of new information in a relatively short period of time—and retain it for the rest of their lives. (You might recall singing the names of the continents or prepositions when you were young.)

Can-You-Repeat-That_Picture.jpgPicture it

Incorporating the senses into the learning process is a great way to foster a deep connection between the learner and the new material. Pictures, movies, animations, hands-on demonstrations and practice, and humor are all potent memory-makers. Storytelling is another good example because of its tendency to create an emotional response, which is also linked to memory retention. Online learning is a particularly rich environment for incorporating the senses—videos in particular can capture learners’ visual, aural, and emotional interest.

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Pepperdine’s model is an effective summary of the ways that content can be presented in order to increase memory retention in learning. What strategies do you use to ensure that your learners aren’t walking away from training and leaving their learning in the classroom?

For more tips on building engaging courses, check out these blog posts:

Five Tips for Creating Successful Instructional Videos

What Learners Really Think about eLearning

When the Going Gets Rough: Surviving the Top 3 Hassles of Being an Instructional Designer