But what of remembering what we have learnt in the first place? If we don’t remember it then we can do nothing with it, cannot put in into practice, and are not changed by it. So let’s look at a few tips to help us with that piece of the puzzle.
1. Intention. If we frame an intent for our learning, we have a goal to hold on to which will help – for example, “I want to learn how to engage in authentic coaching conversations with my team so I can become a more compassionate leader”. Not all learning is that purposeful, of course – some are more serendipitous. So, in those cases, find the motivation for holding onto the learning.
2. Attention. It’s an old trope but “you only get out what you put in” is, in this case, largely accurate. If you expect to go into a workshop, sign up for a virtual class, or buy a book and think all the learning will somehow leach into you by osmosis then I’m afraid you will be disappointed. Paying attention, engaging in discussions, unpicking the new knowledge, however you do it, will help you to connect with the learning and it will become more embedded in your memory banks. If you are investing your time and energy into showing up, you might as well get something back!
3. Application. Connecting your learning to your life is also crucial. If you can understand the relevance of that particular piece of learning and see how it applies to your world – whether that’s in a practical way (if I use this bit of the database in the new way, it will save me time) or a more theoretical context (now I know more about the history of that political movement, I can understand why that group has taken that stance) – then again, you are more likely to hold on to it. Sense making is critical to learning.
4. Repetition. There is strong research that shows that revisiting your learning – in either a knowledge or application way – is critical to holding on to our learning. Particularly, little and often. Pulling an all-nighter before an exam will help you that next day but then the memories drift away. There is a wonderful model called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve that demonstrates how quickly we forget.
It shows that, from literally the moment you walk away from your learning (out of the workshop door, switch off the computer or close the book), the memories you have begin to degrade. Coming back to an idea regularly will embed it in your mind. You can see the impact here:
You could do this by rereading or rewriting your notes the next day (an overnight gap is ideal as sleep has some function in cementing the memories), or creating a sketchnote, or reflecting every time you put your new skill into practice. A particularly excellent way of embedding your learning and spreading the joy at the same time, is to share your learning with others – this might be just chatting to your manager, a colleague or a friend about it, or perhaps you could agree to give a short presentation at your next team meeting. After a recent virtual conference I attended, I wrote a short paragraph on each talk I listened to and posted it on our departmental Teams site for others to read. I’m not sure how many read it, but the act of precising my thoughts and sharing them helped me! You could even contact us and offer to write a blog to post here and share your learning more widely.
Those supporting your learning – content creators, facilitators, mentors, managers and others – all have a crucial role to play, of course. But your own actions are critical. Grab your learning and hold on to it.
Juliet Flynn, Organisational and People Development