In the October 20, 2010 Globe and Mail, columnist Susan Pinker, psychologist and author of The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap, shared the following observations.
“Variety and contrast, not predictability, are what drive long-term retention, according to studies from the Bjork Learning and Memory Lab at UCLA. Trying to learn new material at one sitting, or by repetition, just doesn’t work. New information should be spaced out, with other material and activities thrown in to create contrasts. That’s how our brains handle new information in the real world.”
“So if your goal is to help people learn new skills or material, then you should space out training sessions and mix in contrasting material. That’s how people will retain it, not only on the day they learn it, but when they need to know it.”
Presentations intended to teach information have inherent difficulties. The normal presentation format is one where a speaker presents and participants listen.
They are somewhat akin to trying to swallow a Big Mac in one bite: difficult if not impossible to do, and resulting in little nutritional value. Key points may be remembered, as long as there aren’t too many. Specific details are likely to fall away.
There are ways, however, to give participants time to absorb the information. By inserting content supporting activities, group discussions, solo reflection periods, stories, humor, and music in-between small chunks of content, learning is more likely.
It reminds this examiner of an old saying about love. “If you love someone, let them go. If they come back they’re yours. If they don’t then they never were.”
If you let go of your attendees so they can process the learning, they will likely absorb your message. If you never let them go, your message probably won’t come back to them later.