Learning is a constant process. As humans, we are bound by cognitive limits which determine our memory and learning. Consequently, we must constantly revise the information for longer knowledge retention.
Hermann Ebbinghaus, the famous German psychologist gave the 'learning curve theory'. The theory suggests that learners forget nearly 70% of what they learn within 24 hours. Furthermore, it provides critical insights on how to design learning methods for optimal results. Based on Hermann's theory, this article offers the top 10 strategies to improve knowledge retention in your online courses.
What is knowledge retention?
In simplest words, the term refers to one's ability to store information. That is to say, how easily one can access information in their memories. In psychology, memory has two categories; short-term and long-term memory. Short-term memory processes information for a short duration of time, and long-term memory processes information for longer durations. Hence, to improve knowledge retention, one needs to have a functioning long-term memory.
Interestingly, learning and retention are directly dependent on the types of learning strategies. For instance, interactive learning strategies report higher learning performance in comparison to passive learning methods. In addition, the learning pyramid model thoroughly elaborates on the correlation between knowledge retention and learning strategies.
As the above image shows, we learn best via interactive methods e.g. demonstration, discussion, practice, and teaching others. These are all collaborative strategies that require learners to fully immerse in the learning experience and hence retain information for longer durations.
Top 10 knowledge retention strategies:
Just as the name suggests, gamification is about adding a fun element to learning. Who says learning has to be painstakingly boring and repetitive? By incorporating audio/visual formats, virtual reality activities, and community-based exercises, one can make learning exciting.
2. Diversify content delivery
Knowledge retention is all about retelling, recalling, and revising. However, the process can become very one-dimensional and easily lose learners' concentration. Hence, try to diversify the ways of conveying the learning material. Especially for complex concepts, it is best to explain things using different learning approaches for maximum content visualization.
Furthermore, not everyone learns in the same way. With corporations, people come from various backgrounds and different learning styles. This is why diversity of delivery is important as it accommodates learners.
3. Turn to microlearning
Microlearning is about breaking down big and complex concepts into smaller bite-size pieces. Instead of having longer lectures, microlearning distributes the content in a series of smaller 5-10 minute videos that are easy to follow and revisit. This strategy focuses on repeating the content periodically so that learners can keep up and retain information over longer durations.
4. Test the knowledge
Retrieval is the process of accessing information. It is through this that one accesses their long-term memory and retains knowledge. Retrieval is dependent on testing the memory. Accordingly, to improve retrieval, one needs to routinely test their memory using quizzes and assessments.
Include low-risk quizzes in your courses that do not stress your learners, but rather, motivate them. Moreover, offer knowledge checks or assessments for in-depth evaluation. Assessments can be of two types; formative (occur during the course) and summative (occur at the end of a course).
5. Shuffle the content
Mixing up the topics isn't just about breaking mundanity but it is necessary for well-rounded learning. We call this approach cross-departmental training or learning. It enables learners to step outside of their learning niches and understand concepts from a variety of perspectives. Moreover, it trains them in additional skills outside of their departmental range, diversifying their abilities.
6. Make it relatable
Learning is effective when one can grasp the details of the content. To be able to do so, one requires context i.e. factors with which they can relate and so improve knowledge retention. This is why our teachers would often tell us personal stories at times or give relatable analogies so we could understand concepts easily. And honestly, that used to be one of our favorite bits from classes.
You can apply the very strategy to online courses as well. Thanks to digital breakthroughs, we now have a wide variety of options to help us achieve this. You can use digital whiteboards for story mapping or even animations for and added effect. Learners appreciate such extra efforts a lot.
7. Be collaborative
As the learning pyramid above also shows, nearly 50% of learning is collaborative. Learning by oneself can be boring, demotivating, and tougher. Hence, one also forgets things they learn much quicker. Therefore collaborative strategies are more effective.
There are several interesting ways of applying them. For example, coaching and mentoring where new learners are directed by experienced professionals. Another useful resource is the buddy system where learners work in pairs. More examples include the peer review feature by Teachfloor where people evaluate each other's tasks.
8. Apply the knowledge
What better way to make use of knowledge than to apply it? Indeed, the best way of ensuring knowledge retention is practical application. Once in a while, divide your batch of students into smaller groups for focus study. Assign them topics to work on. Within these groups, participants can teach one another.
Moreover, give case study tasks to the students. These are the best way of making participants apply their knowledge to real-life situations. In this way, learning becomes a practically relevant task instead of being bookish.
9. Offer follow-up sessions
Usually, course creators and educators make the mistake of ending things with the primary courses. Finishing the course is not the task, making a difference and ensuring long-term learning is the main task. Hence, when courses finish, a handy strategy is to offer extra something with follow-up sessions. These can be webinars or some revision activities or even further courses on the very topic. The idea here is to maintain learning continuity so that learners may not forget things going forward.
10. Make learning goals
Learning goals are growth pointers that help people stay focused and on track. They can be very helpful in guiding students and instructors in terms of what they wish to gain from the courses. When one has clear goals in mind, one can easily work towards achieving them.
These are also important for knowledge retention as they enable learners to gauge their learning. They can evaluate their performance and make necessary improvements, hence also improving their overall retention capabilities.
Knowledge retention is all about revising information so that it remains within our long-term memory. It is about memory retention and accessibility i.e. how quickly one can dig into their minds for information and process it. In a way, this is a constant process, a cycle of continuous practice. Hermann Ebbinghaus gave basis to this idea with his learning curve theory. To this day, L&D experts apply it in developing learning models that ensure efficient learning. These knowledge retention strategies too take from this model and offer a solution to the content loss. Apply them in your courses and see the results for yourselves.