A Key Component to Effective Training

Innovation + Transformation Work Culture

Learn this simple secret to effectively train your brain to keep important information.


As a Practice Lead in Learning & Development for Future State, a people-centered, purpose-driven management consulting firm in Oakland, helping people learn new information and behaviors, then using those skills to build their own success, is among my career’s most rewarding and important goals. I love merging the fundamentals of learning with innovative approaches to enhance learning experiences.

Recently I attended DevLearn, one of several conferences eLearningGuild offers throughout the year, and came away inspired by a key brain science concept. It was one I already knew, yet the speakers shared so much excellent data that it was a good “slap in the face” reminder of how important it really is to learning. So important, in fact, I would argue that if we don’t incorporate it into our training and development, we’re leaving the job incomplete.

The Key to Recall

The concept is essentially this: Without effortful recall, it is virtually impossible for our brains to retain new information we’ve learned.

No matter what type of training we do, human brains are programmed to purge a majority of the new information we learn. This is necessary for survival. We can’t possibly store all of the information we come across, so if we don’t use it, our brains get rid of it to make space for incoming information.

If we want to remember something, we need a way to signal our brains that the knowledge is worth retaining. In fact, the key component of retaining a memory is convincing our brains the info is important — and that means using it.

When our brains are forced to recall some of the information a couple of days after the training, the brain essentially “metatags” it as important enough to keep.

“Effortful recall,” as Dr. Art Kohn put it in one of the DevLearn sessions, must occur after the training in order for retention to be possible. When our brains are forced to recall some of the information a couple of days after the training, the brain essentially “metatags” it as important enough to keep.

So what should this recall exercise look like? While effortful recall can’t be easy (hence the effort part), it can be short: Very short. Say, one multiple-choice quiz question pushed out to all learners. The question should take a little cognitive juice and the answer shouldn’t be obvious, but a single “effortful” question will help learners recall not only the information in the question but also connected information from the training.

So for those of us in learning development (and anyone who wants to make sure information sticks), we have to do our duty and continue beyond the training event. We need to make sure our learners get the opportunity to exercise effortful recall after training occurs. Whether the initial training experiencing was live, in virtual reality, augmented reality or just plain 2D on the computer, let’s not forget to find a way to work in this key learning retention fundamental.