Interim Review Activity

To get used to the idea of conducting Interim Reviews in your sessions, Interim Reviews have been inserted into the chapters of this book. Take a few minutes to check your comprehension of material experienced thus far, just as you might have your session participants do.

Take out a piece of paper and write down as many of the key terms and concepts that you have read about up to this point. Take 3 or 4 minutes to do this. Once completed, compare your content against various section headings and the bolded vocabulary words found throughout this chapter thus far. If you forgot some, go back through the chapter to review before moving on.


According to research conducted by Harvard Professor of Education Howard Gardner, human intelligence encompasses a broad scope of at least eight intelligences. This is contrary to the belief held for years that people had one way of learning, and that intelligence could be measured only by quantifiable tests. The Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

developed in Paris by psychologist Alfred Binet and used for so many purposes is just one result of the latter belief.

Much of the known cognitive research, such as that of Jean Piaget, viewed human thinking as directed toward scientific thinking. The ability of a person to solve problems through logical processes and succinctly describe findings was previously a primary measure of intelligence. With the 1983 publication of Gardner's research findings on multiple intelligences (MI), much of this view began to change.

Originally, seven intelligences were identified, then Gardner added an eighth— naturalist intelligence (see Table 1-5). This latter intelligence historically helped humans survive by allowing identification of edible plants. Today, this intelligence assists in interactions with one's surroundings and in understanding the role that each element of the surroundings plays in daily activities of life (e.g., in learning—recognizing subtle differences between a variety of similar items).

One significant point made by Gardner related to the intelligences is that they are independent and that rarely does a person show high performance in more than one area.

Table 1-5. Gardner's Eight Intelligences

Linguisticintelligence is the ability to read, write, and communicate effectively in a variety of ways.

Logical-mathematical intelligence involves the ability to reason, calculate, think in a logical manner, and process information.

Spatial intelligence provides the ability to think in pictures and to visualize a conclusion or result.

Bodily kinestheticintelligence gives the ability to solve problems or manipulate items using one's own body or parts of the body.

Musical-rhythmicintelligence allows someone to create or compose music and to understand, interpret, and appreciate it.

Interpersonalintelligence is crucial for understanding others, their emotions, traits, and abilities and how best to interact with people.

Intrapersonalintelligence provides the ability to form accurate perceptions about oneself and use the knowledge to effectively function throughout life.

Naturalistintelligence gives the ability to observe, understand, and classify patterns in nature.

All eight of these intelligences are equally important according to researcher Howard Gardner in Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice, p. 8.



MINDMAP 2. Eight Multiple Intelligences

Addressing Multiple Intelligences

To leverage Gardner's research, and help increase participant learning and retention, build course content that is flexible in format and that uses an approach that builds on learner strengths and knowledge. If you include a variety of stimuli and regularly vary your delivery approach, participants will have more opportunity to address their own specific learning needs. This will also assist in increasing attention and interest, and with the assimilation of course material. Such an approach also ties into the concepts of andragogy (adult learning) proposed by Malcolm Knowles and others.


Presentation of content, concepts, and ideas is not the only thing that causes learning to occur. Researchers have found that the way in which participants perceive their environment can have a significant impact on how material is received, processed, and retained.

A number of elements can assist in gaining attention and helping to stimulate the learning process; some of these include light, sound, movement, nutrition, color, aromas, plants, and activities. All of these are explored in greater depth in Chapter 7.

To create a stimulating learning environment that helps involve and interest participants, try the following:

Use lively, upbeat music as participants enter and during breaks (see Chapter 7).

Use creative openers, including such things as exciting stories, jokes, startling statements or facts, and props (e.g., clown noses, whistles, or toys)(see Chapter 6).

Get participants immediately involved with an icebreaker activity tied to the program content (see Chapter 6).

Have a notable guest introduce you and/or the session, for example, your CEO, a famous author, local celebrity from radio or television, or recognized business professional (see Chapter 6).

Have participants stand and do something such as a cross-lateral activity (see Chapter 8).

Challenge participant knowledge by posing a question relevant to session content and then have participants develop group answers as they network (see Chapter 8).

Preposition colorful posters throughout the room with quotes, questions, facts, and other content-related material (see Chapter 7).

Enriching the Environment

When planning training programs, you need to take into consideration how your environment will be set up. Ensure comfortable conditions by setting the temperature at around 72° F; arranging chairs and tables in configurations that allow interaction (e.g., U-shape, round, or rectangular patterns; having adequate lighting throughout the room; providing a variety of color on walls, handouts, and visual aids; having appropriate music available; and providing nutritional options (e.g., water, cookies, fresh fruit, soft drinks, decaffeinated and regular coffee and tea) (see Chapter 5).


There are a number of key points during your sessions in which it is crucial for you to gain attention. Some of these include the opening, and when introducing an activity or providing directions, presenting key concepts, eliciting participant input or feedback, and closing your presentation. Various research studies have examined how learners focus on stimuli and subsequently process what was obtained. Based on this research, you must not only quickly gain, but also hold attention, if you hope to be successful in transferring information and having learning occur. In addition, researchers have determined that the average person typically remembers the first and last thing he or she experiences in a session. For that reason, your opening needs to be dynamic, interactive, and have impact. You should also end on a high note (e.g., interactive review using games, competition, or group activities that focus on program concepts). Other options for gaining and holding attention include quotes by famous people that relate to program content, humorous video clips (e.g., Mup-pets; see Resources for Trainers in appendices), and post-tests following your session, in the form of crossword or word search puzzles that contain key program terms and concepts.

The average learner attention span is 15-20 minutes, depending on age, gender, and background. This is demonstrated in everyday life through the way that marketers place advertisements on television approximately every 15 minutes during a program. Because learners, especially those in the United States and Canada, have been conditioned by television through years of watching such cycles, they often have difficulty staying on task for longer periods of time in other situations (e.g., classroom training). The speed and pace of life activities and technology have also influenced learner behavior.

Increasing Attentiveness

When facilitating a learning experience or information exchange, build in periods of at least 2-5 minutes every 15-20 minutes for participants to discuss, process information, physically move, review material, or otherwise break their mental routine. This helps participants stay alert and focused.

Factors Inhibiting Attention

As a facilitator, you must compete with many things for the attention of your participants. Although little research has been done on why people become distracted, the following are more common in a classroom.

• Inadequate time to focus or act on information during a session is a big issue for many people. Keep in mind that the brain does not process input in a linear fashion and needs time to make appropriate connections when new material is received. Some participants need more time than others to grasp concepts or complete tasks. Your failure to allow enough time when giving instructions or for activities can be very frustrating and ultimately lead some participants to give up or shut down during a training session. This can often occur when you begin to present information at a rapid pace while participants attempt to take notes.

Because a lecture is probably the least effective means of imparting information in the first place, people can become bored and their minds may wander while you move on in such instances. Therefore, try to use other strategies for information delivery that involves learners.

Loss of focus can also occur when there are multiple things competing for your participants' attention. For example, think of times when you were using a flip chart or overhead projector to present key points and someone asked a question or you stopped to discuss something in detail. If you left the projector light on or a flip chart page related to another topic visible, your participants' attention was likely torn between the powerful visual images and focusing on you.

• External distracters can draw the attention of participants away from you or a training aid being used to present information. Examples include side conversations between participants in the room; open windows, blinds, or doors that allow participants to view or hear people or events outside; or your appearance and body language. Any of these can cause a loss of focus and ultimately lead to a breakdown in understanding and learning if participants miss a key point of information.

An example of a distracter is movement. Even though movement can attract attention and aid your presentation, it can also cause problems. For example, assume you are facilitating in a classroom that has windows. Outside, someone is mowing grass. As the person walks back and forth with the mower, many participants will likely fix their attention on that person. Why would that occur? Is it because they have never seen someone mow grass before? Are they checking to ensure the grass is being properly cut? These are unlikely possibilities. They are attracted by the movement. This is one of the reasons that you should consider room arrangements and program design when planning your sessions. When possible, select a room in which participants face away from windows and open doors to avoid distractions from people passing by.

• Low learner motivation can be caused by many factors over which you may have no control. These might include participants being told that they have to attend training that they do not feel they need or understand, a workplace environment in which learning and implementation of new strategies is not supported, or participants not having learned how to learn. The latter may be a result of poor training in the past or low curiosity or drive on the part of your learners. Advance preparation for training will help prevent and overcome these types of scenarios. This can be accomplished through sending out pre-work to raise learner expectations; contacting supervisors to encourage their involvement in the transfer of training process; and creating a learning environment that is stimulating and incorporates a variety of techniques, props, and strategies to address learner needs.

• Too much input on your part or that of other facilitators. As you read earlier, the brain is conditioned to focus for only short periods of time before it tunes out. When too much information is presented, or there are long periods of participant inactivity, distraction can occur. One solution to this problem is to change media, activities, information flow, and the pace of the session on a regular basis. Think of situations in which you have become bored during a training program or presentation. What caused the boredom? Once you have identified these causes, work to avoid them in your own sessions.

Helping Learners Focus

In today's hectic world there are many factors that impede attention or the ability of learners to concentrate. The average participant often packs more into his or her workday than can effectively be managed. The result is that the mind is in overdrive trying to plan, organize, process, and keep up with everything.

Technology alone can create many distractions as participants try to stay abreast of latest trends and updates and understand how to use all the available features of different sophisticated equipment (e.g., computers, handheld personal planners, cell phones, cars, VCR and DVD players, microwave ovens, satellite/cable television, and computerized toys). Add to this a steadily increasing number of personal commitments, such as family, professional organizations, and religious or social functions, and you have the basis of much mental distraction when someone attends one of your training programs. It is no wonder that you have a major challenge in engaging and maintaining interest in the classroom.

Even though the detractors listed earlier are significant, the problem of distraction is nothing new. Even before the development of technology, episodes of lost focus impacted people's level of concentration. Such distractions are sometimes caused by lack of mental stimulation or a desire to be somewhere or doing something else. One legend tells of how former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded to boredom and distraction at an official State function receiving line.

Supposedly, at some point, he recognized that people moving through the line were not really focusing as introductions were being made and were just going through the motions of listening. To prove his hypothesis, as people came up to him and greeted, "Good evening Mr. President. How are you this evening?," he replied with a smile, "Good evening. I'm fine. I've just killed my mother. She's upstairs in the bedroom." No one reacted to his comment. One person even replied, "That's wonderful. Have a good evening, sir." If the President of the United States could not command attention in a face-to-face setting, you can imagine your challenge in a group situation in which some people do not want to be there.

Because the brain is conditioned to move on to other focuses when the average human attention span is exceeded, it is crucial that you consciously help learners stay focused. If you fail to do so, or if other stimuli distract your participants, there could be a breakdown in the learning cycle. This fact is justification for providing a mental break during your sessions and for using techniques described throughout this book.

Another way to help participants focus is to use movement, novelty, curiosity, and fun activities. Something as simple as moving to different locations in the room throughout your presentation can help stimulate interest. By repositioning yourself, and using planned gestures during a session, you can attract attention toward yourself and build rapport by closing the distance between you and participants in various parts of the room. You can also use learner movement to hold attention by regularly repositioning people to participate in activities during a session. This stimulates their interest, energizes them, and provides opportunities to network with a variety of different people, which can encourage idea and information exchange.

If you do decide to have people move, keep in mind that, because of disabilities that may not be known to you or others, some people intentionally position themselves in specific locations when they arrive in order to help their own learning. For example, someone with a sight impairment may sit directly under a light source, someone with a hearing impairment may sit near the front of the room to better hear what you have to say, or someone with a mobility impairment may take a position near the exit or refreshments and restroom. Because of these possibilities, if you move people around, you may want to allow them the option of returning to their original place if they desire to do so at the end of an activity.

To assist in identifying ways to gain and hold participant attention, try doing a quick check of planned program activities. Ask yourself the questions in Table 1-6, then ensure that you build responses to them into your program as necessary.

Controlling Mental Side Trips

Because the human brain loses focus periodically, it is perfectly normal for participants to daydream or to take mental side trips away from your training. As a facilitator, your challenge is to recognize this fact and work to identify and minimize the number of

Table 1-6. Attention Planning

What generally attracts attention during a session? What techniques generate the most topic discussion? What types of questions garner the most useful responses? What type of activities result in maximum participant involvement?

How information is best presented so that it will be attained, remembered, and ultimately used? What activities do participants seem to enjoy most? How are participants most challenged to solve problems? What rewards do participants seem to enjoy?

these. You want to help participants instead convert this down time into productive processing periods. Some techniques for helping participants remain focused include the following.

Originality should be used in the design of your program materials, content, delivery, and environment. Approach training from the perspective that participants will regularly receive an "Ah ha!" on content and application of what is learned if they are presented with opportunities to receive and process information based on their own training needs and modalities.

Differentiation of your materials and approach from that of others, or from what participants already know, can stimulate learning. You can accomplish this by verbally explaining differences, demonstrating or "walking the talk," allowing learners to participate in activities in which they come to this realization on their own, or by taking a contrary approach. For example, instead of stating points obviously (e.g., "Five steps to effective attention getting," try something like, "Getting your participant's attention without them even realizing it").

Involvement of participants by stimulating emotions, such as excitement, fun, stress, curiosity, anticipation, or surprise is an excellent way to enhance learning. This can be accomplished through the use of various strategies and approaches built into your program content and delivery format. For example, instead of having participants simply state their names and organizations as an introduction, create a stimulating icebreaker activity (see Chapter 7).

Risk aversion that comes from anxiety or fear of the unknown should be alleviated. Establish early in your session that the environment can be considered safe and that participants should feel free to challenge, question, or voice opinions. Also, be certain that you outline session objectives and what will be covered, along with the schedule of events, so that participants know what to expect and have a sense of personal control.

In addition, part of giving participants a feeling of safety is assure them through your words and actions that they will not be ridiculed or singled out for criticism.

Empowerment of participants is crucial in getting their buy-in. You can accomplish this early in your introduction by communicating your expectations of participants and the session and eliciting their expectations. Flip chart what participants offer or provide handouts to make them visual, such as a Training Agreement (see Tools for Trainers in the appendices). Refer to these expectations throughout the session as necessary and appropriate.

During the program, you can further empower participants by encouraging feedback and positively acknowledging points made. This ties to the Principle of Adult Learning that each attendee has valuable knowledge and experiences to share and on which you can build.

Facilitator attentiveness to signs of participant disinterest or distraction. Skilled trainers and educators have learned to master the art of reading participants' nonverbal signals. Such activities as doodling (drawing pictures), checking personal calendars or other items unrelated to course content, looking elsewhere, side conversations, manipulating toys that have been placed on tables, or similar actions are typical signs that you have lost a participant's attention.

Creation of a feeling of personal ownership of program content and process is important. This can be accomplished by designing activities in which participants actively get involved in the exchange of information and in problem-solving, for example, use of question-and-answer sessions and small group discussions in which several participants have been assigned roles as group leader/spokesperson and notetaker/scribe. You might also ask people to form pairs and give them a time limit in which they must identify ideas, solutions, suggestions, or whatever you indicate to present to the other participant groups.

Gaining and Holding Participant Attention

To gain participant attention, learn some basic magic or card tricks to help arouse curiosity. In selecting what you will do, figure a way to connect your activity to the content or topic of your session. For example, a card trick in which participants have to anonymously select a card that you later find in the deck could be tied to creativity, problem-solving, observation skills, decision-making, and many other aspects of learning. You could accomplish this by stressing discovery.

To hold attention throughout your programs, include plenty of activities in which participants process information learned every 15-20 minutes. This can be accomplished through small group discussions, journal writing, role play practices, partner activities, action planning sheets, mindmapping, or problem-solving using concepts learned.


How have you seen learners exhibit attention loss in sessions?

What ways can you think of to engage learner attention regularly throughout your sessions?

We are wasting valuable learning time by having students sit too much. While standing, even if it's just for a few moments, your focus is stronger. —Eric Jensen The Learning Brain


Learning and memory are closely related and the terms are often used in association with each other. Learning refers to the acquisition and encoding of information, whereas memory relates to the storage and retrieval of that information.

The ability to recall information accurately is often envied by others. One story tells of how the ancient Greeks revered people with powerful memories to the point that they worked very hard to devise techniques for enhancing memory. They created a series of mnemonics or memory tools to assist in recalling information, some of which are still used today.

Retention Tips

All the tools in the world, however, will not help participants to retain information if you fail to assist them and to remember that for most adults, information received must be: Meaningful and something that learners perceive as valuable or useful. When presenting such information it is helpful to put it into a format or structure that aids in retention and allows participants to connect it to previously received information. The use of analogies and metaphors can assist in this effort, as can short interim reviews done periodically.

Given individually or one item at a time without any simultaneous distractions. For example, if you are presenting a key point for discussion on a flip chart or dry erase board, turn off your PowerPoint or overhead projector images.

Presented effectively and in a manner that allows time for participants to focus on and grasp the concepts. They should have ample time to process what was received and then be able to take notes or ask questions as they feel necessary. Slowing your rate of speech and reducing the numbers of points presented in a session can assist in accomplishing this.

Reviewed and tied to previously learned concepts every 15-20 minutes in order to cement them into memory and enhance understanding of the overall scheme of the concept or material.

Like other brain-based research, the study of memory has led to some significant advances into understanding how the human mind works. In particular, scientists have discovered that memory is not a single function, nor does it occur in only one area of the brain. Instead, memory is a dynamic process that reconstructs various pieces of information stored in different areas of the brain each time someone encounters new items, then attempts to make sense of the material. One key finding that you can immediately apply in your training programs is that pictures have more impact on memory than words alone. Images have a stronger impact than written or spoken words even when pictures and words are combined.4 I have therefore incorporated a variety of cartoons and other visual images throughout this book to reinforce what you read. You can do likewise in your handouts.

There are some important implications of memory research. First, participants will often recall words or information that is implied rather than actually presented. For example, if in a brain-based learning environment you were to give a series of terms such as fun, excitement, music, color, table glitter, toys, and props, then later ask someone to describe the environment of a brain-based learning program, he or she might likely include a phrase such as "party atmosphere." This is because the brain is an active unit that continually stores and recalls information and material. It may well associate the items you listed with a festive or party scenario.

New external input is typically intermingled with existing memories that are similar. The result is often incorrect memory recall. This phenomenon often occurs at crime or accident scenes, which is why law enforcement officers interview all available witnesses in order to identify common story elements. This collective memory can help them get a more realistic picture of what actually happened, as the officer did not witness the event personally.

Due to the mental distortion that can occur in a training session, it is important that you deliver material to as many senses (e.g., sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) as possible (see Table 1-7). In addition, you should periodically clarify and verify understanding, then review material from time to time to help solidify concepts in the minds of your participants.

The second implication of memory research is that participants benefit more when related events or items are grouped or presented in logical sequence, for example, step 1, 2, 3 versus step 3, 1, 2. This is important because when unsequenced information is delivered, the brain pauses and attempts to categorize or associate what is received in order to facilitate recall. When you introduce an item or make a point that relates to something presented much earlier in the program and is not associated with your current sequence of material, you can actually cause learning to stop. This is because distracted participants will attempt to sequence internally and compare items in their minds

Table 1-7. Active Learning

On average, people remember:

Source: Rose, C., and Nicholl, M.J., Accelerated Learning for the 21st Century.

so as to make sense of them. While they do so, you likely continue to introduce additional information, which they miss because they are distracted or mentally busy doing something else.

Organizing for the Brain

When presenting related items or showing pictures, make sure that they are grouped and sequenced to maximize the brain's ability to assimilate and store what it experiences. You can do this by distributing them according to a theme, by numbering them sequentially, and by using the Chunking technique for memory enhancement that you will read about later in this chapter.

Stages of Memory

For information to be accurately recalled it must be effectively received or encoded, stored through review or practice, and used or retrieved by associating it with something familiar or a cue.

Encoding the information correctly when it is received is a crucial step in ultimately remembering and recalling it later. For example, think of times when you were introduced to someone and were unable to recall the name a few minutes later. Often in such instances there is mental interference that prevents you from effectively receiving the name in the first place. A common reason for this is that instead of listening as the person tells you the name, you are mentally busy examining his or her appearance and trying to give your own name at the same time.

Storage or strengthening must occur shortly after information is received in order to reinforce what was originally received. In the example of meeting someone, it is helpful to repeat immediately and later use the person's name as you talk with him or her. This allows you to process it mentally as you recall the name and to hear it as you say it back to the person. The more you do this, the greater the chance that you will retain the name. Similarly in a classroom, ask participants to stop periodically after 15-20 minutes to review and process material received. Have them verbally exchange or repeat what they have heard in an activity.

Retrieval is a crucial process in remembering something. Without the ability to retrieve what was attained, a person did not really remember it. Think of tests that you crammed for in school in order to recall the material the next day on a test. Later in the week or many years later, you likely could not recall much of that information unless it had been reinforced or learned in other ways. Retrieval of information through association with a known cue is often helpful in reinforcing a mental image. There are many memory tools to assist in doing this, some of which are covered later in this section.

Categories of Memory

Beginning in the 1980s researchers started to realize that people are often influenced by earlier experiences without consciously being aware of the fact that they are remembering something. As a result of this revelation, scientists typically group retrieval into two categories: implicit and explicit memory.

Implicit Memory

This category of memory refers to a person retrieving information from his or her subconscious mind without trying to do so. For example, think of times when you were writing something and a word that you do not regularly use popped into your head. You may not have recalled the exact definition, but knew the word was correct for the context in which you were using it. Similarly, when applying grammar rules to written material, most people familiar with the rules of the English language can appropriately apply them, but cannot explain why the usage is correct. They might say, when questioned, "I don't know, it just sounds right."

Explicit Memory

Explicit memory relates to the intentional recall of information or events. In general, someone can recall material and episodes that he or she has experienced and remembered. For example, if participants are involved in a multiple-day training program in which subsequent skills and information are built on those presented on the previous day, you might test their recall at the beginning of the second day through some sort of quiz or review.

There are generally two types of memory tests for explicit memory: recognition and recall.

Recognition tests involve having participants review a list of facts, information, or material in an effort to select those that they have seen before or to single out a particular item. From a training perspective, true-false and multiple-choice tests fall into this type.

Recall tests require participants to retrieve information without the benefit of clues or hints. This type of test might be a free recall format in which participants are given a series of numbers, letters, words, or events and asked to recall them in any order. If you asked them to recall in the order originally presented, you are using an ordered or serial recall test, and if you give cues to assist recall you are using a cued recall test. An example of the latter type would be to present a list of items and then ask which applies to a specific item or issue.

Types of Memory

Like many other facets of human functioning, there are a variety of different types of memory. Understanding these can assist you in building a training program that takes a multifaceted approach to stimulating learner memory.

Sensory memory, sometimes referred to as sensory register, is the first aspect of memorization. All incoming stimuli come through the five senses and are held there long enough (milliseconds) to recognize and either pass it along to working memory or discard it. This is one reason for developing activities and delivering information that focuses on all the different intelligences that you read about earlier.

Short-term memory or working memory refers to the ability to retain limited amounts of information for a brief period of time (some researchers say from 5 to 30 seconds). To retain information in short-term memory indefinitely requires repeating the information; otherwise one forgets it. To illustrate how this works, think of times when you were trying to remember a telephone number you looked up in the telephone directory. As long as you continued to repeat the number to yourself en route to dialling that number, you likely accurately recalled it. However, if someone or something momentarily distracted you by interrupting your repetition of the number, you probably forgot and had to look the number up again. Likewise, if you provide information to participants that you want them to act on without giving them an uninterrupted opportunity to focus on the information, they will likely be unsuccessful in recalling it.

In 1956, American psychologist George Miller reviewed many experiments on memory span and determined that the average person can recall up to seven bits or chunks of information, plus or minus two, from short-term memory. The plus or minus came from the fact that studies were inconsistent in their findings. Subsequent studies have found that working memory capability increases as children grow older, and decreases as people age. The latter is especially true in cases of brain disease, such as Alzheimer's disease. The fact that decreased memory occurs with age is also significant when you are designing programs, as many people in the workforce today are baby boomers who grow older each year. To address their needs, and that of others, build in a variety of activities that provide time to process and repeat information.

Long-term memory refers to the storage of large amounts of information, procedures, events, and other memories for indefinite periods of time. The result is that when participants recall earlier material learned years before, childhood experiences, workplace examples from throughout their career or any other similar details, they are pulling from long-term memory.

Scientists differ in their perspectives on how memories arrive in long-term memory. Many believe that information first goes to short-term memory where it is processed and forwarded on to long-term memory based on the significance of the information or event. Other researchers believe that functioning of short-term and long-term memory is parallel rather than sequential. According to the latter theory, therefore, information received can be simultaneously processed by both short-term and long-term memory.

From a classroom perspective, the value of long-term memory is that you can design training information, activities, and environments that build on previous information and experiences possessed by participants in order to strengthen current knowledge and skills and add new ones to those already in existence.

Helping the Brain Remember

Many strategies, ranging from simple to complex, have been developed to assist people remember names, information, and experiences. Although many of these techniques must be self-learned, there are some that you and other facilitators can build into your training delivery strategy to facilitate better retention. Some of the more common techniques follow.


To help retain information (e.g., list of items needed from the supermarket, phone number, facts, and figures) try chunking items into smaller groups of seven, plus or minus two. This procedure is effectively used in many instances each day. Think about commonly encountered information and how you use it throughout your life:

Phone numbers with area code (___)___-____(ten numbers chunked into three groups)

Social security number___-__-____(nine numbers chunked into three groups)

U.S. Military service number for personnel prior to the Viet Nam era________(seven or eight numbers)

License plate numbers (up to seven numbers or letters, often with a space between some of them)

Postal zip codes in the United States_____-____(nine numbers chunked into two groups)

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People The Seven Deadly Sins

The Brady Bunch television family (mom, dad, and six children)

The characters of Gilligan's Island on television (seven people—Gilligan, Skipper, Professor, Mr. & Mrs. Howell, Ginger, and Mary Ann)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Seven Wonders of the World


By turning key points of a presentation into an acronym using only the first letter of each word or phrase, you can help ensure that your participants get and retain them. This technique was likely used to help you learn much of the information you were exposed to in school. Whenever possible, use familiar acronyms to help participants remember complex terms, titles, or elements in your sessions. The following are examples of well known acronyms:

NATO: North American Treaty Organization NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration USA: United States of America NFL: National Football League

Acrostics are formed by taking the first letter of the words in a series and creating another familiar word with them. For example, HOMES—The Great Lakes (Heron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior). You can use this technique to create words from lists of steps, phases, or elements in a process or system.


Developing phrases or words that sound similar or organizing into a little song-like process can also help retention of information. For example, in order to remember which way to turn your clock when daylight savings time begins and ends, you may have learned, "Spring forward; Fall back." To remember how many days are in each month— "Thirty days hath September, April, June and November, all others have thirty one, except February with twenty-eight, and twenty-nine in leap year."

As energizers and an interim review, many facilitators have participants develop short rhymes, rap songs, or other tunes based on the key concepts of the program. Often participants are asked to use the musical tempos from well known children's songs such as "Old McDonald," or a popular song heard on the radio.

Aiding Participant Memory

When presenting new material to participants, try one or more of the following techniques to help ease their recall.

Use strong transition phrases that help them link one concept to the next. For example, "Now that we have discussed how point A can assist in creating an effective learning environment, let's look at how point B can allow participants more involvement in such an environment."

Make sure you point out the AVARFM (Added Value And Results For Me) so that participants understand the personal value of learning and retaining the concepts being offered.

Use a variety of Interim Reviews every 15-20 minutes to help reinforce key points. For example, have participants take out a sheet of paper, write down five key points that they have experienced, then share them within a group of three to four other participants. Any key points they missed are likely to be offered by someone else, thus reinforcing what they heard originally.

Have participants create a rhyme, song, or acronym using key concepts they have learned.

Have participants create a drawing of someone using or demonstrating key concepts learned.

Have each participants write down one key point learned, then form small groups and have participants reteach the point to their peers in their own words. Encourage group members to add anything that is left out about points being presented.


What strategies do you use to help you retain information?

Who do you know that has a good memory and whom might be able to share their retention tips with you?

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