Learning is Like a Box of Chocolates: How the “Spacing Effect” Maximizes Learning Retention
Learning comes to all of us at a cost, whether in time, opportunity, or cold hard cash for courses or training. How do we get the most out of our investment over the long term? We would certainly tend to believe that the more we use something over time, the more cost effective it is. Like any investment, we would like to see not only immediate, but also longer-term returns.
One of the best ways to maximize our retention is to lengthen the learning engagement over time and support it with reinforcement.
Why is this important? Learning in mass, all at once, fails to effectively retain the completeness of this learning. Think of your brain drinking from a fire hose. That’s great for the instructor; they can check the box after delivering 100% of the subject matter in one day. Unfortunately for us, it does not give our brain time to receive and process this information at the same rate. The consequence is that we do not absorb and retain nearly as much knowledge from the same offering of information in comparison to a more paced delivery. This observation aligns with the science of neurogenesis in the hippocampus. For the non-scientists like me, it means that we always develop new brain cells in certain parts of our brain, including where we learn. If these neurons aren’t engaged, they disappear so it sets the truth to a “use it or lose it” saying quite literally.
So now the answer you’ve been looking for. Think of learning like a box of chocolates. Chocolate is good, really good, but do we really want to eat all 24 pieces in one sitting? If we pace ourselves, we experience the taste repetitively over a period of time. It becomes engrained in our memory and our senses. We become experts and anticipate exactly how that next piece will taste when we open up the box again and how to describe it to someone else. We associate the logo or design with our learned taste, very much like a job aide to remind us of some bullet points of the fundamentals we learned in that training. In that training session, more is not better. Make it just enough to process effectively and make you hungry for the next bite out of the box.
At Invista Performance Solutions we build our training to be successful in the long term and include wrap-arounds when they are best suited.
Some effective methods for extending the learning process include:
- Designing learning to be accomplished in shorter sessions over multiple days
- Repeating and recycling the same subject matter in different ways across multiple trainings
- Assigning pre-work to engage the learner before training, such as completing a reading assignment on the subject before training, or watching a relevant video
- Utilizing virtual training platform (such as Adobe Connect or Zoom) to create more learning events for a dispersed audience
- Follow up in-box post training learning assignments, delivered to each learner’s inbox
- Short post-training facilitated coaching and reinforcement sessions, delivered virtually or live, to small groups or one-on-one
Read more about “The Spacing Effect” on Wikipedia.