Professional & Organizational Development

Maximizing learning

Pursuing training and development equips you with tools, resources and strategies for accomplishing work; provides fresh ideas and perspectives; and helps you become more competent and better prepared to do your job.

Employees who are lifelong learners can benefit the entire organization by sharing skills and knowledge and by contributing to a culture of continuous improvement.

  • Complete any pre-work or assessments on time.
  • For scheduled sessions, arrive (or log in) with time to spare so that you’re settled in and mentally ready when the training begins.
  • Take notes to improve your focus and aid with retention.
  • Spend learning/class time free of diversions and fully engaged in the training. Put away your cell phone or other distractions. If you think of something that needs to be done outside of the training, jot it down so that you won’t continue to be distracted by it.
  • Try becoming a “whole-body” listener. “Listen” not just with your ears but also with your eyes, your mind, your intuition and your heart. Engaging multiple faculties will help you listen more effectively.

People learn in different ways. Identifying your own learning style, or innate preferences, may help you become a better learner.

If you are a visual learner, you tend to think in images and pictures. You take in what you hear or read and translate it into images in your brain. Visual learners tend to:

  • Use speech patterns that contain words that are visual in nature
  • Have an attention to detail and aesthetics
  • Be interested in in design, architecture or visionary/future-oriented pursuits

To optimize learning, visual learners should:

  • Color code to organize notes and ideas.
  • Use graphics to reinforce learning; i.e., create illustrations, diagrams, doodles, charts, etc.
  • Visualize spelling of words or facts to be memorized.

If you are a kinesthetic learner, you learn through your body or through your feelings. If a kinesthetic learner can touch or feel something, they will process and remember that information effectively. Kinesthetic learners tend to:

  • Be restless sitting in classrooms for long periods of time
  • Have difficulty paying attention during sedentary experiences
  • Prefer active, hands-on learning
  • Talk of feelings and physical experiences
  • Show interest in sports, building things, dance, etc.

To optimize learning, kinesthetic learners should:

  • Engage in experiential learning, such as role playing. If this is not done during a training, try engaging in role playing or scenarios with a colleague in the days following the training.
  • As possible, walk, stretch or move around while learning.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Trace letters and words to remember facts.
  • Use computers to reinforce learning through sense of touch. If taking a class in-person, consider using a laptop or iPad to take notes.

If you are an auditory learner, hearing or listening is the best way for you to absorb new information. Classroom lectures and presentations are the preferred methods of learning. Auditory learners tend to:

  • Excel in open discussion formats
  • Have an excellent capacity for listening
  • Succeed as musicians, public speakers, psychologists, etc.
  • Prefer talking rather than writing

To optimize learning, auditory learners should:

  • Learn by participating in discussions.
  • When reviewing material after the training, read notes aloud.
  • Participate in study or discussion groups. If attending an in-person training, find a buddy you can continue to talk with in the days and weeks after the training.

Along with the three types of learners above, some people may feel they learn best through reading and writing. To reinforce this type of learning, take thorough notes and create your own summary sheets or outlines from the concepts presented in the training.

Statistics vary, but over the course of one to two weeks, we may remember only 70–80% of what we’ve learned — unless we take specific steps to revisit and retain information. Intentional efforts to move information from short-term to long-term memory can improve retention and help you combat the phenomenon known as “the forgetting curve.”

  • Repetition. Repeat or revisit newly learned information a day later, a week later and then a month later. When you are in a learning mode, be sure to take notes, highlight information in books, document new procedures, etc., so that information can be revisited efficiently later.
  • Exaggeration. To commit something to memory, exaggerate the concept in your mind (e.g., make it bigger, smaller, or funnier).
  • Imaging. If possible, associate an image with an idea or piece of information. Creating a mental image for something you want to remember requires you to focus and creates multiple neural pathways for retrieving the memory.
  • Relation. Try to relate new information to things that you already know in order to help fuse learning with information that you have stored in your long-term memory.
  • Focus. The human brain needs about eight seconds to commit a piece of information to memory. When you are learning, it’s essential to avoid multi-tasking and remove distractions to facilitate this process.

People tend to remember information that they say or do at a much higher rate than information that they simply receive. Sharing what you’ve learned helps you retain the information, and sharing learning also benefits others in your organization.

After you’ve completed a training:

  • Share concepts, tools and ideas for application formally or informally with one or more colleagues or friends in the days after the training.
  • Schedule a meeting with your boss or put it on the list for your next 1:1 to talk about what you learned or gained from the training, and what might be useful to share with the broader team.
  • Ask for time at a team meeting or schedule a meeting with a small group to give a presentation about the training you attended, what you learned and ideas you’d like to put into action. As little as five or fifteen minutes will allow you to share some key ideas, or you could prepare a 30-minute encapsulated training. Talk to your boss or a colleague about what might be most appropriate or effective for your situation.
  • As suitable, create job aids or checklists to share.

After you’ve completed training, revisiting it and sharing it with others is key to remembering and applying learning, as addressed above. Here are some additional steps to help apply the learning.

Prepare for action. Think about any knowledge, skills, strategies, tools or ideas you gained from the training, how these align with your goals and core job competencies, and what you might like to change about how you do things. Your boss or a colleague might be a good sounding board for your thoughts or have additional ideas for you to consider. Create an action plan for implementing your ideas; include goals, steps that need to be taken and changes you’d like to make. The goal-setting, development methods, and action planning worksheets in POD’s Career Planning Resource (PDF) might help. The Training Action Plan (PDF) is another useful resource.

Review. Continuing to revisit your learning is key to transferring information into long-term memory and will also help you apply learning to your job and day-to-activities. Schedule times on your calendar for review: at a minimum, one week after the training, one month after the training, and three months after the training. At these times, look at any notes you made as well as any materials you annotated or highlighted. You may also want to revisit your action plan and progress to goals at these times.

Manage change. Most human beings are not wired to easily accept change. As much as you yourself might want to do things differently, changing habits takes persistence. If changes involve others, that may create tension or resistance. If you have not formally shared your learning, as mentioned above, make plans to do so; sharing the learning may help to get “buy in” for changes. Be sure to address the benefits and reasoning behind any proposed changes, and communicate clearly about any changes. If possible, allow others some latitude when it comes to accepting or incorporating changes; some people will come along if given the opportunity to do so at their own pace or on their own terms.