Learn Better! Tips to get the most out of your training

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By Sophie Lanoix

We are all learners. Sometimes voluntary, sometimes forced. In both cases, attending training takes up valuable time in our busy schedules. Why not make the most of it then?

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As a participant, we generally have little or no influence on the design of the training. What we have influence on is our motivation to learn and our attention during the training. We can also use some concrete tips to increase retention and transfer what we’ve learned in training to the workplace.

Children are not the only ones who have to learn things by heart! As an adult, we also sometimes need to be able to remember something quickly in order to apply it without the need for a checklist. Examples:

  • Pilot, firefighter, police officer: emergency procedures
  • Air traffic controller: airport and airway data
  • Physician and nurse: medical procedures
  • Sales representative: characteristics of a new product
  • Exams: for university, for a position, to enter a professional order, to obtain certification

What You Can Do BEFORE Training

Tip 1: Believe in Your ABILITY to Learn

Do you think you are able to learn, improve and change? If so, you have a growth mindset. If, on the contrary, you believe that you are good or not in a field and that there is no point in even trying to learn and improve, you have a fixed mindset. If you tend to have a fixed mindset, remember that your skills are the result of your neural connections and that they change continuously, regardless of your age and natural abilities.

If you approach training believing that you can learn and improve, you increase your chances of retaining the content of the training. You will also be better able to imagine yourself doing the task or exercising the skill, which increases your chances of applying what you learn during the training. Most importantly, you activate your error correction mechanisms, which will help you improve your learning and performance. We always learn from our mistakes… or at least we should!

Tip 2: Know WHY You Are Participating in Training

When do you familiarize yourself with the learning objectives of a training course? Before you register or when the training begins? If you want to maximize retention and transfer, you should know WHY you are attending training well before you arrive in class or start the online course.

By being aware of how training can help you in your daily work, you will be better able to project yourself into the future completing the task. Most importantly, by making concrete links between the content and your work, you will increase the perceived value of the training for you. These two very important elements increase the likelihood that you will put what you learn in training into action in the workplace.

Your participation in training should be part of your learning or skill development plan. What is the link between this training and the others in which you have or will participate? How will this training contribute to your personal or career development?

Finally, you must also ensure that you have the prerequisites for training in order to properly integrate new knowledge and skills. Do you have any doubts about the usefulness of training for you? Discuss this with your supervisor, colleagues or former participants.

Tip 3: Plan PRACTICE Opportunities

You may be able to imagine doing a new task or exercising a new skill, but until you actually do it, you do not have acquired that skill. How many times have you enthusiastically participated in training and never put anything into practice? This is a monumental waste of your time, the trainer’s time and money for the organization. From the moment you register for training, you should immediately identify opportunities to apply what you will learn. Discuss this with your supervisor and colleagues to clarify expectations.

This conversation is also the ideal time to negotiate a longer time to complete the task to properly integrate new knowledge or practices and discuss your right to make mistakes. If your supervisor does not want you to practise your new skill, why is he or she paying for the training? The opportunity to practise will not come for another year? Consider postponing your participation to a more appropriate time. It is unlikely that you will remember the content in a year’s time, if you have never practised it before.

What You Can Do DURING Training

Tip 4: Be ATTENTIVE and Reduce Distractions

You have just paid a lot of money to attend a conference in your field. The speakers are very interesting, but as in all conferences, they follow one another in a long series of lectures. When you focus on the content of a lecture and follow the presenter’s explanations, the areas that are activated in your brain are the same as if you were doing the action yourself. Your learning already begins (I have already touched on this aspect from the designer’s point of view in this article).

Moreover, if you are constantly distracted by your emails and all kinds of notifications on your phone or computer, you absorb less knowledge than when you pay full attention. One study even showed that just having your smartphone in your field of vision reduces the cognitive ability to learn. Simply storing your phone in a bag or leaving it in another room increases retention and this difference is even more pronounced for people considered dependent on their phone.

Tip 5:
SLOW Down!

Whether at a conference, in a classroom course or in an online course, you are sometimes placed in a situation of passive learning. But you can still become active learners!

To listen more actively to a presenter, interrupt the flow of information and participate actively. Whenever possible, ask questions, re-explain or rephrase the content that has just been explained.

To be more active when reading a text or an online course, interrupt your reading to reflect on the content. Ask yourself questions about what you have just read and make connections with other concepts, knowledge and experiences. Try to anticipate what comes next, explain what you have just read and above all try to remember what you have just read. You can also search for the definition of a word. If you have difficulty stopping naturally, plan your pauses, for example at the end of a chapter, section or every 30 minutes.

What You Can Do AFTER Training

Tip 6: Make Efforts to REMEMBER Contents

Ask around you: how do people study to retain content? Most often, people reread their notes, sometimes highlighting important passages. According to studies—and experience!—this is an inefficient learning strategy! If you want to spend less time studying AND remember more content, try the following strategies:

  • Try to remember content WITHOUT reading it first. You can use cue cards or applications such as cram.com, flashcard.online, goconqr, etc. (there is a very long list of such applications).
  • Explain the content. Prepare a list of questions that start with Why? and How? about content and try to answer them. Don’t forget to check if you have the right explanation! It would be silly to learn well wrong information…
  • Create a diagram of the content. By drawing a diagram that connects the concepts you are studying, you will need to think more deeply about them and the knowledge will be more ingrained.

Tip 7: SPACE Your Learning Periods

When you try to learn something, do you study for long hours a few times or do you plan shorter, more frequent learning periods? If you feel that it is more effective to study for a long time and less often, you are not alone… but you are wrong.

Studies clearly show that you retain much more with learning periods spaced over time than with learning periods grouped in the same day. If grouped learning seems more effective, it is because after a few hours or minutes, the knowledge is fresh in the memory, and therefore easier to remember. However, the exercises done under these conditions no longer consolidate the knowledge in your memory. On the other hand, if you resume your study the next day or a few days later, you need to reactivate the knowledge in the brain, which is more difficult, and you feel you are learning less well. Don’t get fooled! It is in these moments that you consolidate knowledge and learn it for the longer term. In the very words of one of my participants: learning hurts the brain!

Tip 8: Seek Honest FEEDBACK—Even If It Hurts!

Who really likes to receive feedback… be honest! Getting our mistakes and areas for improvement pointed out is hard on the ego and on the feeling of self-efficacy. However, it is an essential and truly effective mechanism for learning.

There are two types of feedback: positive feedback, which confirms that we have done an action correctly or given a good answer, and negative feedback, which confirms that we have made a mistake. Both types of feedback are important for learning and have different and complementary effects in the brain. Positive feedback releases dopamine and gives us a sense of well-being, which increases our motivation to learn and continue. Negative feedback triggers error correction mechanisms that, among other things, helps us focus our attention to our error to modify our knowledge or abilities.

There is no point in asking for feedback if you do not intend to change your actions. With feedback, therefore, comes automatically a personal reflection on our practices, paradigms and ways of doing things. Others can give us feedback, but they can’t change us! A real motivation to learn and improve is therefore necessary to receive feedback. People who are persistent and more successful are the ones who, by trying to improve, trigger the chemical reactions associated with positive feedback by correcting their mistakes.

So, Do You Know How to Learn?

Today’s working world is uncertain, volatile and constantly changing. The pace of these changes is only increasing, and we must all be able to adapt continuously to new work processes and technologies. Learning to learn has become an essential competence to lead a successful career with a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment at work.

The few tips outlined in this article are certainly not the only ones you can implement to promote retention and transfer of your learning. You can also, for example, take care of your health, walk every day, drink water, stay away from the screens for a while, meditate, cultivate your curiosity, be in a state of mind that encourages you to accept new ways of doing things, etc.

After reading this article, let me know: What tips did you already know? Do you know how to make the most of your time in training? What tips do you want to start using? Do you have any other tips to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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