Listen! How Many Times Do I Need to Repeat This?


A formula for making learning stick.

I listened to a podcast the other day and the entire time I was thinking how interesting and relevant it was to me and my life. I committed right then to take the action steps that were described by the speaker so that I could have a better, more productive and healthier life. There were 6 things that were recommended.

That night at dinner, I couldn’t wait to tell my family about the podcast! I was hoping for two things – 1., give them a heads up on how I was going to instantly become amazing – like the speaker, and 2. that they might also want to listen to it and join in on this new way of life.

So, I tell them all about the first item on the list – and then the second and then…

…I completely forgot the third and fourth and fifth items. And then I remembered the last item, mostly, I think.

What happened? It wasn’t like I wasn’t listening. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t interested – clearly, I was!

Have you personally experienced something similar?

Now let’s look at it from an employee perspective. You tell them something about how to do their job – or do their job better - and they totally buy in, yet, they don’t seem to make the change? Or even remember how. Is your first thought – Don’t you listen? How many times do I need to tell you??

It happens ALL THE TIME in business. Things don’t stick! If you are like us and subscribe to the philosophy that “the only sustainable competitive advantage is your people and their ability to learn faster and change faster...” then you might want to reconsider how you teach and coach your team.

The NeuroLeadership Insititute (NLI) has been exploring how to make ideas stick for the last several years. Through their research, they have found that that the following four key conditions are required for effective learning: Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing (AGES).

Here's a quick overview of the AGES model and Butler Street’s approach to ensure these conditions are in place:

Attention: When you learn, maintain a single focus having complete and undivided attention.

This one is obvious. Our training is centered around getting out of the whirlwind and focusing on learning. Our modules are progressive, where a single focus is taught in each module and we tie it back to the previous modules.

Clear agendas, laptops and phones off - except for those in notes mode and pre-determined breaks to allow our students to attend to their “day job”.

Generation: Listening isn't enough. Heighten the likelihood of memory retention by doing something with the information you're learning. Create a situation that will make this information meaningful.

Just like my podcast example, listening isn’t enough to truly learn. We must appeal to several learning methods, and as many senses as possible. Visuals and videos are used to cement the concept in their mind.

Participant guides that require the learner to insert words or phrases as well as take personal notes. (Trust me, if I would have written down the 6 items with a little note or 2 next to them, I probably would have remembered) and active reflection and discussion on how each skill will impact their role going forward.

Emotion: Strong emotions lead to strong memories. Look for ways to build an emotional connection to what you're learning.

Relevant stories. One of the key components of any learning scenario is for the student to be able to quickly link the subject to an emotion – such as success, happiness, or lack of friction in their day. They need to picture themselves changing. They need to be reminded of how not changing will lead to unsatisfactory emotions.

Active role practice. We have our participants engaged in role practice throughout the training. This draws on many emotions and helps drive home the skills and the need to practice, practice and deliberately practice them.

Butler Street training is always focused on the business our clients are in.

We have been in sales and in management and in executive positions and have many, many stories that can help cement the team’s learning. Here is one video that is a story of how and why I switched vendors:

Spacing: In order to grow memory, you need a break in between learning and you must revisit it.

This is where the “don’t you listen…” comments come from and where most organizations fail. They subscribe to a “one and done” training – whether it’s internal or external. You know the type – a battery recharging session, a day conference or training session and everyone is pumped up at the end of it. And then, nothing sticks.

It resembles a pattern that we learned in school, which is to study everything once. We learned by cramming for the test--a one-time burst of taking in information and trying to absorb as much as we can. But if the goal is to retain information, that model doesn't work. Quick - who remembers the formula for finding the volume of a cylinder?

It’s a proven fact, what does work, is if we learn something, sleep on it, and then learn it again. Sleep is not a passive thing. It involves a lot of active brain processes, one of which is to reactivate those things that have been tagged as important during the day. That's how we grow our memory. But it doesn't happen in an instant, and it can't happen in an instant. You have to learn, sleep on it, come back to it, and reactivate it.

At Butler Street, we focus on reactivating the learning through a number of methods. We employ pre-work reading so when the learner attends the class, they already have a baseline understanding (they’ve learned some of it once). We also have post-class continuous improvement sessions which include active participation and ownership by each learner as well as coaching. We also have self-paced eLearning to provide constant reinforcement and layer the learning so it sticks!

Companies we work with grow 4 x their respective markets because they are willing to subscribe to a training concept that is complete with a system of reinforcing activities. Neuroscience also proves it’s the way to go! I am going to go back to that podcast now, listen again and take some notes. In the meantime, if you’d like to improve your results, contact us. We can help you grow!

#makelearningstick #AGES