LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

June 2021
Volume 17, Issue 6

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Below find this month’s newsletter, hot off the press!

  • Special Message: Transferring Learning to
    Real-Life Situations Requires More than Luck!
  • Feature Article: Tips on Avoiding “In-One-Ear-and-Out-the-Other” Syndrome

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Note from the Author

How Do You Make Learning Stick?

"Learning" road signTraining represents a powerful approach that can produce excellent results when it’s appropriately designed. Compared to having people learn entirely on their own, training generally offers a more efficient and effective way to impart new knowledge and skills.

So, is there any downside to training?

Yes. One downside is that there are many situations in which training might not be a relevant tool, such as when people already have the knowledge and skills they need to do their work, but are being impeded by something else. For example, they might have inadequate authority to make decisions in their jobs, not enough tools or resources, outdated or incomplete data for producing what they’re responsible for, ill-defined quality standards, arcane procedures, and so forth.

Another downside is that training represents an expensive and ephemeral way to close a knowledge or performance gap. Here’s why:

  • It’s expensive because it frequently takes people away from their regular work and often involves course development, logistics, and support costs.

  • It’s ephemeral because of its fragile, short life span within people’s brains, which is why learners need considerable follow-up support to make real use of what they learn.

That’s why this month’s articles discuss some of the many factors that influence how well people can absorb, retain, recall, and apply what they learn. I hope you enjoy today’s features, and please be sure to share your thoughts by leaving your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

Transferring Learning to Real-Life Situations
Requires More than Luck!

Instructor teaching a class of computer usersThe term “transfer of learning” refers to the ability of learners to apply their new knowledge and skills to real-world situations, particularly in the workplace.

If trainees cannot apply what they have learned to their jobs, their training time and investment will have been wasted!

Learning-transfer “success factors” are the keys to hitting a training home run that results in greater proficiency, speed, accuracy, quality, or any other desirable, job-related outcomes. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  1. How mission-critical the training purpose is
  2. Learners’ attitudes toward the training process
  3. The design and relevance of instructional materials
  4. The presence or absence of obstacles to productivity
  5. Whether job conditions support and encourage the desired outcomes
  6. Whether the budget and schedule allow learners to practice new skills
  7. The availability of necessary tools, resources, equipment, and job aids
  8. The level of management support for the immediate use of the training, and
  9. The amount of post-training motivation, practice, and guidance provided

With these ideas in mind, read on to discover four important ways that you can help your learners succeed by more effectively absorbing, retaining, recalling, and applying what you’ve taught them!

Feature Article

Tips on Avoiding “In-One-Ear-and-Out-the-Other” Syndrome
by Adele Sommers

Are you a teacher, trainer, presenter, or instructional designer? If so, you’ve probably realized that a major dilemma we face as explainers is curbing our desire to tell our listeners everything we know. Ever noticed how much we love talking about our favorite subject? If given a chance, we could go on forever!

A boy teaching advanced math

For example, if you teach people how to manage their finances, one of the topics you surely love to discuss in detail is how investment interest accrues over time, and how to compare different types of loans.

But when you get into unfamiliar territory, such as how the formula for simple interest differs from the formula for compound interest, your learners will struggle to decode all of the new concepts. And once they see those equations written out on the board, their eyes will glaze over as they strain to make sense of it all!

Bottom line: After only one exposure to that new information, especially if it’s complex and detailed, learners will be quite challenged to retain and recall even a small fraction of what they’ve seen and heard.

What that in mind, this article explains why this phenomenon occurs, as well as four specific steps you can take to prevent what I call “in-one-ear-and-out-the-other” syndrome.

It’s easy to become overloaded when learning something new…

A man with a bag over his head thinking "Overload!"Why is absorbing new information so difficult? Why can’t we just hear or see something one time and simply “get it,” without any further exposure or study?

The problem is that we human beings have a very limited capacity in what is known as “working memory” (also referred to as “short-term memory”).

What is working memory? Working memory handles our constant stream of incoming information. You can think of it as a cramped processing center where gobs of sensory input are constantly arriving. But then they must wait to be decoded, packaged, moved, and stored in a retrievable way.

All of that new input is supposed to go into long-term memory, which is our brain’s more permanent storage area. Yet, only a tiny fraction of the input ever makes it into long-term memory on the first try.

Why is that? Much like trying unsuccessfully to drink from a fire hose, our small, underpowered working memories simply discard anything that they can’t quickly sort out. This means that a lot of what you say to your students — especially the complicated details — will simply go in one ear and out the other!

Here’s one reason why your students can be so easily overwhelmed...

We can process only about 3 to 4 chunks of information at a time!

Diagram with caption: Research shows most people can process only 3 to 4 chunks of input at a time! What does that mean?For many years, researchers generally believed people could memorize somewhere between 5 to 9 pieces (or “chunks”) of new information at a time.

A common example is hearing a phone number for the first time and then trying to dial it. We typically rehearse it in our minds just long enough to call it — and then it quickly fades away.

To determine what our working memories are really capable of, in 2001, Dr. Nelson Cowan analyzed decades of previous research. His closer look at the data revealed that the limitations of working memory seem to be much greater than originally thought.

He concluded that we’re more likely capable of absorbing only about 3 to 4 chunks of new information at one time with any success.

What does our limited working memory mean in daily life?

How many ideas can you work with at one time?

Diagram with caption: It refers to how many items we can juggle in "working memory" without writing them downTo informally gauge how many chunks of information you can juggle simultaneously, all you would have to do is visit your local supermarket without a shopping list when you have several things to buy.

Someone with an exceptionally good short-term memory (or a clever mnemonic aid) might be able to remember a long list of items to buy without ever having to write them down.

Most of us, however, depend on a written list when our needs exceed a certain threshold. For example, I’ve found that my own memory-juggling capacity accommodates only about three or four things before I really must make a list!

The same is true whenever I’m learning the basics of a complex subject for the first time — especially when my job is to translate it into training. I “rehearse” small amounts of that new information in my brain and in my notes until the pieces come together. Then I’m able to organize and store it in my long-term memory. It could take days, weeks, or months to finally make sense!

So, how can YOU prevent “in-one-ear-and-out-the-other” syndrome?

To help your learners master everything they’ll need to know without losing most of it along the way...

1) Recognize your learners’ limitations. They can absorb only about 3 to 4 main ideas in one sitting, so please try not to overload them. But if you give them some supporting handouts, or point them to a set of quick reference guides, they’ll have something to refer back to when they need to fill in the blanks.

2) Present the information one layer at a time. Lay a thorough foundation by “chunking” your training presentations, rather than “dumping” the information out in a haphazard way. What does that mean?

It’s the difference between building a strong foundation, one layer of bricks at a time (that’s chunking), and dumping a ton of bricks on the ground — and then expecting your students to sort through them all and stack them on their own. That’s way too much work for your learners, and far too intimidating!

3) Provide the input in more than one form. If your students can see it, hear it, and touch it (such as by working with interactive exercises), that combination will engage multiple senses and generate a much stronger impression. You can achieve that result by blending online tutorials with class discussions and plenty of practice opportunities, for example.

4) Repeat the same information over and over again. The more often people see, hear, and interact with the same concepts, the stronger and longer their recall will be. Here’s a key reason why...

Woman trying to rememberHermann Ebbinghaus, an eminent 19th-century experimental psychologist, researched how long people can retain new information. For example, he studied what happens when learners are able to review that new information multiple times at later dates, compared to not reviewing the information at all. His findings resulted in what has become known as the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

Ebbinghaus’ data revealed that within only one month, we tend to forget about 80–90% of what we’ve learned if we don’t review it and put it into practice right away. The longer we wait to apply it, the less we’ll be able to remember.

Conversely, the more often we revisit and use that information, the longer and more accurately we’ll be able to recall what we’ve learned.

In conclusion,
it’s not unusual to overestimate your learners’ ability to absorb new information the first time they hear it. Just remember that their capacity to decode, retain, and recall complex or detailed facts, terms, concepts, and so forth is really quite limited. To avoid “in-one-ear-and-out-the-other” syndrome, use the four tips above to help them readily remember and apply what you’ve worked so hard to teach them!

Copyright 2021 Adele Sommers

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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