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Sticky Learning: Mastering the ‘Technology’ between your Ears

December 6, 2018

Making learning ‘sticky’ is a topic that continues to occupy teachers, trainers, educators and therapists in a variety of walks of life. School teachers are working almost around the clock at this time of year to encourage, cajole and galvanise their exam-level students; those of us working with our adult delegates without such externally imposed deadlines, embark on a never-ending pursuit of the ultimate technique to make learning stick.


The truth is, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ answer. There are tools, techniques and ‘hacks’ that work for some, maybe even for a majority. And there will still be those people whose memories and powers of recall remain elusive and manage to defy the ‘Holy Grail’ techniques.


Having spent an insightful couple of days at the Learning Technologies expo in London, we’ve returned to the office to reflect on what we learnt from the hundreds of exhibitors, presenters and the other visitors we met in the interminable coffee queues. As you might expect, there was much talk of technology, of products and of making full use of the latest developments in gadgetry, systems and imagination.


The fact that all these developments, fascinating, at times freaky and frankly mind-fryingly complex as they are, push the boundaries of futuristic technological possibility is perhaps obvious, given the expo’s title. Technology, however, can at best merely enhance the human learning experience, it cannot replace it. While much was made of the need to ‘meet millennial learners where they are’ and use the available hard and software inventions in the pursuit of faster learning, the fact remains we are still working with the same natural hardware, namely our brains.


Technology is not going to create more brain cells (or cleverer ones, for that matter). It’s not going to double the number of neural pathways we create, which are designed to strengthen the learning process.


In order to make best use of the technology that is available today, it is important that we understand how the human brain learns, retains and recalls learning, makes associations with what we already know, and for that matter, how it chooses what to remember from the billions of stimuli presented to it on a daily basis.

Practical Exercise


If you have read any of our blogs in the past on the work of Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) you’ll know that alongside spaced repetition, he also advocated self-test/self-assessment as a means of retaining learnt material. This little exercise is borrowed and adapted from the world of exam revision techniques; you may have come across it if you have exam-aged school children at home or are mentoring an apprentice at work.


You might like to use this technique for an article you need to read for a meeting, or perhaps a colleague’s paper for an upcoming conference.


Step 1: Read the article fully, making any notes or highlighting points as you go along

Step 2: Move on to a completely different activity for around 20 minutes

Step 3: Take a sheet of paper and write down everything you can remember from the article

Step 4: With a different colour and the article in front of you, go through your notes and add anything you had forgotten from the original. Compare the amount of writing in each colour


Doing this on a regular basis will start to train your brain to read with more purpose and look for the note-worthy nuggets in the text

Please feel free to try this with your apprentices at work or your school-aged children. Do let us know how you get on!

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