Why We Forget, How We Learn, and Skills On Demand

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On-Demand Learning Produces On-Demand Skill

Learning is a process. We start learning as soon as we start interacting with the world and we never stop. Learning is never complete but is instead an always ongoing process. Just pause for a moment and think about how much you’ve learned over the course of your life. Numerous different academic subjects, cooking, cleaning, brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, all of these activities involve learning.

Also, think about how much you’ve forgotten! Back in grade school you might have known all of the capitals of every state. Or back in high school, perhaps you had a great grasp of chemistry or advanced algebra that you’ve now forgotten. Over time, you’ve almost certainly forgotten a great deal of what you’ve learned.

Forgetting things is a fact of life, and in many cases it’s a good, healthy process. Think of it this way, you only have so much room in your fridge at home. You have to prioritize what foods to buy and store. The same is true of your brain. You can only remember so much, so you have to prioritize what you remember.

Unfortunately, we also tend to forget stuff that we don’t want to. This is true of anything we learn, whether that learning takes place at a school, through a corporate training program, or somewhere else. In some cases you might forget something simply because you really didn’t want to learn about it, and weren’t all that interested. In many cases, however, people forget stuff that they actually want to learn.

It’s not just that people are forgetting  specific details, the rate at which we forget can be spectacular. Studies have found that within one hour people will forget as much as half of what they had learned. Within 24 hours? 70 percent. Within a week? As much as 90 percent.

For companies and people looking to improve their talents, this is a major challenge. It’s hard to become more productive, to learn new skills, and to branch into new areas if you can’t remember important concepts. If you spend a week studying a subject, but forget 90% of what you learned a week later, are you really making progress?

 

Why People Are So Forgetful

So why do people forget so much? Part of it comes down to the fact that our brains are simply hardwired to forget. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s a natural part of the functioning of the brain.

Just think about how much information your brain is inundated with every moment of every day. Vast amounts of data are pouring in from your senses. Sights, sounds, smells, etc. Would you really want to remember every one of those details? Probably not. Luckily, the brain is able to suppress these minor details.

When you learn something, you’re faced with a similar challenge. Your brain has to prioritize what to keep, and sometimes it forgets things that you’d rather remember. While this can often be stressful, it is also perfectly normal. Forgetting stuff is a fact of life, and it’s also a challenge that can also be dealt with.

 

Remembering To Remember

So what are some steps that you can take to improve your ability to retain information? Or how can your company improve its corporate trainings? There are things you can do to increase the amount of information obtained.

First, consider immediacy and what is being taught. If you’re going to teach someone something, or you yourself want to learn something, you should do so when you’ll immediately use the information. So for example, don’t study computer programming until you’re ready to sit down and actually code something. If you’re enjoying a nice day at the park, that’s probably not the best time to bust out a book on coding. You’re mind is going to be elsewhere.

Hands on experience and actually completing a task will also help you retain more information. For companies, one way to ensure immediacy is to offer on-demand training. By giving employees access to on-demand online learning classes, for example, you can let students learn at their own pace. This way students can choose to learn something when it’s immediately useful or of interest to them.

Another great way to get more hands on with the info you’re trying to learn is to talk it over with a  colleague. For example, if your employees are trying to pick up a new skill, engage with them, share your own insights, and ask them some questions. You don’t have to drill them on details, or try to overwhelm them with new information, but a little bit of engagement can go a long way with retainment.

Further, remember what we just said about stimulus? (You better, it’s only been a few moments!) The environment you learn in is going to have a big impact on how much information you’re able to retain.

While your brain is quite efficient at filtering out unneeded sensory stimuli, it’s far from perfect. If you’re in a crowded conference hall or another distracting environment, you’re going to struggle to pay attention. People, faulty presentation equipment, an overzealous air conditioner, the number of potential distractions is essentially limitless. And every time you get distracted, your grip on the information you’re trying to consume is going to be weakened.

With on-demand, online learning your employees will be able to study where they are must comfortable and least likely to get distracted. That might mean a local coffee shop, or in a den at home. By putting your employees in charge of when and where they educate themselves, you’ll be giving them the flexibility needed to find an environment that actually works for them.

In conclusion, learning is a process, and it is one that can be refined through concrete effort. Many of your employees will want to learn, and will want to increase their skills. In doing so, they’ll make your company stronger. You can help your employees and your company by making learning as easy and accessible as possible.