Did you ever see a textbook filled with highlighted passages? Have you ever re-read the same passage several times in an attempt to remember it? When it comes to learning….both these efforts have been proven ineffective.

If these techniques do not work it means the information you want employees to retain will not be there when they need it. It matters not what they are attempting to learn. Knowledge is like a savings account: We can only take-out what we put-in.

So, how do we make sure information sticks in our long-term memory? Over a century of research on this topic suggests there are five proven methods.

One of the best techniques is called Distributed Practice. This is a process where practice is broken into a number of short sessions. Think of it this way: A daily five-minute sales meeting will likely be more effective than a 30-minute weekly meeting.

Retrieval Practice is also effective. This approach utilizes short quizzes or tests. The same premise applies: A number of small quizzes will be more effective than one big test.

Interleaved Practice is where we blend topics while learning (yes, the exact opposite of how just about every company and college tries to educate people). If you want employees to learn about management and marketing, integrate the topics for better results.

Elaborative Interrogation means that we should be asking ourselves as we learn: What is the purpose of this effort, and how will it be applied? This approach is essential in adult education. Adults do not learn the same way as children, and they shouldn’t be taught like children.

Self-explanation is a technique whereby we teach ourselves without any assistance. We just figure it out. Business doesn’t always come with a playbook. Sometimes we learn effectively by relying upon our own common sense and talents. The key is to not rely on intuition solely if possible.


  • Roediger, H. (2013). Applying Cognitive Psychology to Education. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 14(1). p. 1-13.

(Copyright 2016, Matthew Kenney, All Rights Reserved).

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