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6 Ways to Increase Learning Retention

How can you make learning stick?

Key points

  • Task repetition is a key way to transform short-term memories into long-term memories.
  • Breaking a large project into small tasks can help with retention.
  • The technique of chunking is typically used to offset the limitations of memory capacity.
Vladvictoria / Pixabay
Source: Vladvictoria / Pixabay

Suppose you decide to learn a new skill, such as learning to play a musical instrument. This desire to learn is only the first step. You would need a good practice approach that will move you toward that goal. The process of learning can be frustrating, which can undermine your initial inspiration and motivation. The learning process involves good practice that leads to long-term retention. Without retaining what you’ve learned, it will leave your short-term memory after a certain amount of time has passed.

The following provides a few tips that you can use to boost your memory and mental performance. They are proven ways to enhance learning skills.

1. Set a small goal. Divide and conquer. Break down the overall goal or project into small sections that can be achieved with a comfortable amount of concentration. Unrealistic goals create frustration and doubt in your abilities. Smaller goals are easier to reach and increase your motivation. Nothing is more motivating than the power of small wins.

2. Chunking. Chunking pieces of information can improve memory. Chunking is when you break a lot of information into smaller chunks. Breaking the skill into small chunks and mastering them one at a time until the act becomes unconscious is an effective way of learning. You remember the whole by remembering the parts. If you’ve ever wondered why phone and social security numbers include dashes, it’s because the dashes make the numbers easier to remember. For example, a phone number sequence of 4-8-3-1-4-2-5 would be chunked into 483-1425. This makes information easier to retain and recall.

3. Focus on one chunk at a time. As Plato’s counseled: “Do one thing and do it well.” Focus the learning experience on one chunk at a time. New information needs to be learned slowly. You don’t perform better when you speed through a course. This explains why cramming for finals is a very bad way to learn something that will last. Information from cramming will come in and go out.

4. Repetition. The repetition of tasks (doing the same thing repeatedly) continues to be the best way for transforming short-term memories into long-term ones. One of the most effective strategies to enhance learning is to spread out the learning process. For example, an hour on the weekend, and another session a week from now. The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning. When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.

5. Being deliberate. Deliberate practice is purposeful and knows where it is going and how to get there. Purposeful practice is performing the same activities over and over with immediate feedback on the outcome. Evidence has shown that deliberate practice produces impressive results. For example, training under a qualified golf instructor is more beneficial for improving golf skills than mindlessly hitting practice balls at a driving range. Being deliberate requires you to slow it down. When you work slowly, things become simpler.

6. Step out of your comfort zone. The struggle is vital to learning. For example, students learn new concepts more fully by grappling with a problem before getting instruction on exactly how to do it. Working and learning in a challenging environment deepen one’s learning.

More from Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.
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