Tip #826: Training for the AGES

“I am still learning.” Michelangelo, age 87

We all want our training to stick and for newly learned knowledge and skills to result in positively changed behaviors in the worksite. According to the NeuroLeadership Institute, if we meet four conditions: attention, generation, emotion and spacing, we can activate the hippocampus. This is important because the hippocampus is a region of the brain that is active when new information is embedded into long-term memory. The following information is drawn from an article titled: “The AGES Model can help learning stick,” by Jay Dixit, Jon Thompson and Mary Slaughter.

The first condition, attention, seems obvious. Participants in a learning program will not retain anything if they haven’t been paying attention. There are two important aspects to attention. First, their attention needs to be focused on one thing if we want participants to remember what they learned. However, second, the brain will lose focus after paying attention to just one thing after about 15-20 minutes. The conclusion is: don’t split their focus and make sure to change things up frequently by having the participants take a break or do an activity.

The second condition, generation, refers to the “process of creating your own connections to new ideas.” The bottom line is that participants will learn much better if they actively interact with new information or practice new skills, as opposed to passively listening to a lecture. Interestingly enough, one of the best ways to generate connections to new information is to have the participants associate what they’re learning to thoughts about people. Studies have indicated there may be a special memory network specifically devoted to social thoughts and interactions. The conclusion: to link the brain’s social memory network to the new information, have participants plan how they would teach the new information to someone else.

The third condition, emotion, is important because emotional arousal “activates the hippocampus and accelerates the formation of new memories.” We want to avoid strong or negative emotions that distract and may interfere with learning. Instead, a moderate amount of positive emotion is the optimal state for learning, because it promotes creativity, insight and perception.  The conclusion: use novel and entertaining learning activities that generate a positive feeling and give the participants an opportunity to interact with each other.

The fourth condition, spacing, relates to a consistent finding in memory science that  participants remember best when learning is spaced out over time. This is because it takes time for our neural connections to change. It has been found that spacing within a single learning session, by splitting the content into two shorter sessions separated by a break, will lead to superior recall a week later. The impact on recall is even greater when participants can get one or more nights of sleep between learning and re-engagement. Optimal retention is achieved when new information is revisited at least three times after first exposure. Memory encoding will work best if participants test themselves to actively retrieve what they learned, instead of passively reviewing the material. The conclusion: space learning over days, if possible, revisit new information three times, and have participants test themselves on the material.

The AGES model seems very practical as far as it goes. I’d prefer it if it were spelled WAGES. While attention, generation, emotion and spacing touch on participant involvement, they are not explicit about its significance. The new W should stand for activities that involve the whole body. Participatory learning activities provide a break from focused attention. Learning activities are the means by which participants generate connections. Whole body learning activities engage the senses and stimulate emotional responses. Learning activities are also the way spaced learning is reinforced and retrieved. I’m all for adding the W and it’s not because I live in Wisconsin!

What do you think?

May your learning be sweet.


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