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  • Rikki Lee

A Friendly Reminder

This blog post won’t take long to read. It’s just a simple message, and you’re finished. Keep this thought in mind when you develop your next classroom, online, blended or on-the-job training program: Learning is reminding. That’s it. We’re done.

(Read on to learn more) Of course, you need a lot of materials to prepare the training: existing and new subject matter, subject matter experts, previous live instruction and hands-on demonstrations, and so on. And then you’ll need to do a lot of work to build the new program: developing scripts, slides, handouts, knowledge checks, pre- and post-assessments, instructor notes, activities, animation, video, audio and so on. This preparation part of training is relatively simple compared with the learning part, over which you have little control because it’s in the hands (and brains) of the learners.

But you can help them retain the knowledge they’ve gained by constantly reminding them of what they need to know, repeating the important points before, during and after training. With today’s short attention spans, constant interruptions and multitasking habits, we usually forget what we’ve learned just a few seconds, minutes and hours before. That's why learners need to be exposed to the knowledge frequently. In other words, learning is reminding. OK, that’s all for this blog post.

(Read on to learn more) Reminding yourself about things is probably a large part of how you use a smart phone—not to mention, jotting down words and lists on Post-It Notes and legal pads: to tell yourself not to forget upcoming appointments, phone numbers, time of day, weather, groceries to pick up, birthdays to buy gifts for, meeting agenda and other items. These tools help jog your brain about what you should remember (or should have already remembered).

You might recall that we’ve covered the topic of remembering several times in this blog, especially about the forgetting curve (shown below). It was theorized by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 19th century. He determined that we begin to forget within a few hours after learning knowledge for the first time and when no repetition is done afterward (the first curve on the left). After a few days, almost everything is forgotten. But when there's repetition or practice afterward (the remaining curves), the amount of knowledge that’s retained increases and the amount that’s forgotten decreases.

Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

You also might remember the discussions we've had in this blog about how our brains hold less and less knowledge as we age, because we lose more and more brain cells. We also deliberately forget those things we don't need to know any more.

So, it helps learners remember if you keep reminding them about it. But before that can happen, the knowledge must stick. There are several ways to increase knowledge adhesiveness, such as by providing multiple methods of sensory learning at the same time (audio, video, physical objects, interactivity), offering real-life simulation (examples, scenarios, role-playing, virtual reality), making the knowledge relevant to learners' jobs and lives, striking a chord with learners' emotions, and repeating main points by means of email, posters, refresher workshops, etc.

One more time: Learning is reminding. Give your learners frequent reminders about what they’ve learned until they can begin to remind themselves. OK. Now, we’re done.

(Read on to learn more)

When you think about it, the best training you’ll ever have keeps you remembering what you need to know, and never lets you forget it. This training can be in the classroom, in an online course, via webinar, over Facebook and Twitter, through email, taped to office walls or tacked on lunchroom bulletin boards. The more frequently you acquire similar "bits" of knowledge, the more you’ll be able to internalize them and be able to continually remind yourself even after that stimulus is gone.

For example: After 20 or 30 years, are you still able to multiply two double-digit numbers in your head or work out an algebra problem (“solve for X”) on paper? If so, you kept reminding yourself what you had learned in school. And all important knowledge can be kept alive through frequent reminders.

In conclusion, offer your learners limitless opportunities to be reminded and to be able to remind themselves so they can remember longer. One recent example of continuous learning-by-reminding—and perhaps still ongoing if you’re reading this blog post weeks or months from the above date—is the coronavirus outbreak and what people can do to prevent contagion by washing their hands for at least 20 seconds every time. Depending on your exposure to the news and social media, you've been reminded about this instruction multiple times a day.

So, learning is reminding. OK, now we’re done.

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