How to Improve Learner Retention?

How to Improve Learner Retention?

The human mind is a work of art. What might seem to be a readily comprehensible and easily retainable lesson at one moment can quickly become a nightmare to recollect the next. And we end up boring a deep hole into the mind trying to unearth the bits and pieces of the information we are trying to locate.

But all we dig up are shovels of information that are in no way related to the topic. And if we are lucky enough, scraps of information, which hover on the borderline of the one we are looking for, come up along with the unnecessary.

And this becomes all the more worse when time starts running out during an examination and the answers play hide and seek in our minds. It's almost like someone has carefully selected the required information and wiped them clean off our minds. This is when the real feeling of panic sinks in.

This notoriety made me wonder, “Is the rivalry between the recollection endeavor and the actual recollection the real Satan that dwells in our minds?” Speculations apart, the memory can be a real pain sometimes. So I did a bit of research on this and I have been greeted with loads of impressionable evidence.

Turns out, the brain requires quite a bit of heavy duty work to help cement important information into the long-term memory. The process may not be a piece of pie, but the consequences are.

Watch this entertaining video that reveals the way we retrieve memories from the mind.

I will break the procedures down into simpler ways for you to understand.

But before we move on to the techniques, let's take a quick look at the astounding psychology of memory.

The Psychology of Memory

The human brain is made up of 100 billion neurons. These neurons send messages to one another through synapses. These synapses are like a bustling loading dock of a ship carrying the memories to the next neuron. And creating memories is nothing but building and strengthening the connection between these neurons.


Three interesting facts that I uncovered:

  • Interesting Fact 1.

When we create a memory, a certain unique pattern of brain activity occurs and our brain tries pretty hard to retain that, even in our sleep. It recreates the same pattern while we sleep. This procedure is known as memory consolidation and is performed to make the memory long term.

  • Interesting Fact 2.

Recalling memories is more of a reconstructive process. It is like our brain extracts fragments of a memory and reconnects the pieces by weaving them together into a concise narrative without even realizing it.

  • Interesting Fact 3.

There is every chance to smudge areas of the memory by adding or removing facts in the short time between it is formed and cemented. After it gets consolidated, there is no chance of changing any bit of it.

Now the question that remains is: how do we make our memories retain information longer?

Let's find out.

Strategies for Information Retention

When you are done implementing the following strategies, there won't ever exist anything called a 'bad memory' in your life. Let's get you started.


1. Associate Facts with Images

This is a very simple and old, yet effective technique to trick the memory into retaining information. You see when you associate a fact with a picture, things somehow fall into place in the recollection front. This is because we humans are visual beings. We would rather have a single picture tell us lots of things, instead of pages of text. And when there isn't a picture accompanying a text, we make one up in our minds.

In fact, human beings process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

Let's take the Battle of Waterloo for example. You have the facts ready in the History book. Napoleon Bonaparte in his hat barging with his army on the Allied troops isn't very difficult to visualize. You can do the same with Geography, Physics, Chemistry, and any subject you want.

This technique was already put into motion a long time back, but the benefits were reinforced again in 1984. The Russians found that the Olympic athletes who mentally rehearsed their sports activities performed better in the actual events. Now that is quite a handful.

  • When you visualize an information, your brain fixates on that little piece of imagery as soon as you try to remember the fact. And you can easily recreate the required information from the image.
  • Your image should be unique and personalized. The more unusual the image is, the easier it is for the mind to remember.
  • The more detailed the image, the easier and better it is to recreate the information from it.

So, do you find images to be a great way of recollection? How about movies? Yes, you read that right. And it's easy. All you need to do is put the images into motion. And you are all set.

2. Avoid Multitasking

As helpful as it might seem to be, multitasking is a blinding bane in the process of learning. You obviously cannot expect to remember how thrust works if you have been chatting with your friend and staying alert for the oven beeper to go off the whole time you had the chapter open in front of you.


Yes, we understand that the muffins need to be taken out at the right time and the friend on the phone needs your consolation for the mishap, but multitasking makes lesson retention difficult.

Retention and recollection comes from a single basic aspect of learning: comprehension. And for this to occur effectively, you would need to concentrate on the task at hand. It might come with a price, but you can avoid that by concentrating on the other tasks at other times.

Did you know that it takes 8 seconds to commit a certain piece of information to memory?

And of course, listening to music, keeping an eye out for the phone screen to light up, and browsing through unnecessary information while studying never help. Therefore, you would need to ensure that you stop paying attention to everything and concentrate on one task at a time.

Here's why.

  • The human brain can handle shifts between tasks, but it is not equipped to do that well. This is why the consequences of multitasking become quite appalling.
  • The posterior lateral prefrontal cortex of the brain is like the information processing counter, which lines up the series of incoming information in a queue.
  • When the interval between information becomes short, it slows down the hub and creates a bottleneck. Hence, the information tends to slip past the queue into the striatum.
  • The striatum of the brain is responsible for habit learning, which requires continuous reinforcement and practice.

Such is the curse of multitasking.

Watch this video to get an idea about the negative impacts of multitasking.

3. Use Acronyms and Acrostics

These are tried and tested methods of information retention and are pretty effective too. Acronyms are words created out of the first letters of the each term that need to be remembered. Now that seems pretty easy, doesn't it? But wait. There's a catch. The acronym that you create needs to be a word that you can remember and not just anything that you feel like.

  • For example, a very common acronym used by all of us is the one that helps in remembering the names of the five Great Lakes. 'HOMES' stands for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
  • Another example is that of the seven colors of the rainbow. Violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange make 'VIBGYOR'.

Acronyms are quite useful for rote learning.

Acrostics are like the opposite of acronyms. You take the first letters of each word and create words of your own by employing that. And the words you create must form a sentence with an appropriate meaning.

There was this one acrostic that we used to talk about all the time in school and it was so effective that it stuck with me. “Some People Have Curly Brown Hair Tightly Pulled Back” stands for a shortcut for a Trigonometry formula.

Both acronyms and acrostics are quite easy to remember and can be quite effective too.

Why don't you think up a few more and share those with us in the comments section? We would love to hear from you.

4. Try Brain Exercises

Wait. Did you think exercises were meant for physical fitness only? Here's a reality check.

Just like everyday workouts can spell amazing benefits in achieving lean muscles and a good physical shape, research has found that regular brain exercises can boost your brain's cognitive reserve.

Brain exercises can take you a long way in boosting information retention.


Wondering how to start off? Your morning newspaper would be a good idea. Try Sudoku. A few attempts and you are bound to get addicted. That's how my dad got me hooked onto the game. And then there's the crossword puzzle. It's a great choice for a starter.

Apart from word and number games, you can try the following to sharpen your mental skills.

  • Learn Something New

When you learn something new, you get to flex your brain muscles for a much-required exercise. The more you work your brain, the more sharpened it gets. It has been found that switching your brain between languages affect the regions of your brain that are responsible for:

  • planning
  • reasoning
  • decision making
  • prioritizing

If you are still in doubt about testing the waters, here's another push: learning a second language staves off Alzheimer's disease for good. A 2011 Canadian study revealed that people who could speak two different languages didn't exhibit signs of Alzheimer's until 5 years after the ones who couldn't.

And of course, it doesn't always have to be a language. You can learn to play an instrument, new sport, cooking, or just about anything you deem fit.

  • Calculate Sums in Your Head

As soon as we encounter a lengthy calculation, our minds tend to scream out for the calculator to rescue them from the plight that the strain tends to cause. And we end up succumbing to the rescue screams every time.

Next time you see a similar situation coming your way, why don't you turn the other way round and do the math in your head? Actually, it's not that scary if you think about it.


Quick suggestion: try avoiding the pencil and paper route too.

  • Draw Something from Memory 

It could be a map, a picture, a person (if you are that good at drawing), or anything that you want. You see, when you rack your brains to recall the details about whatever you are drawing, you end up refining your memory skills a good deal.

I'll give you an idea. The morning after a lavish dinner party, you can sketch the food you had from memory. Would be fun, really.

And don't forget to repeat this technique now and then.

5. Writing has Many Benefits 

Write what you learn. And learn what you write. Keep this endless cycle going on till you have the facts ingrained enough to never forget them. Now do not just copy the information as is from the book; memorize those first and then write it out while you recall what you have learnt.


Do you see what happens here?

When you actively recall and write something down, you are actually teaching yourself the information. And teaching is obviously, the best way of learning anything. Also, when you write something out, the parts that you have not understood well enough and the ones you are uncertain about, immediately come to light. And you can focus on trying to understand those instead of repeating the parts you have learnt thoroughly.

Recommended Read: Top 10 ways to improve your memory

The more you put your mind to use, the better it becomes at recalling information. And do not forget that comprehension sits right at the top of the retention chain. And practicing is what holds it all together. No matter what memory hacks you befriend, you simply cannot ignore these two.

You will be amazed at how things follow suit as soon as you start following the above retention boosting tips.

What other techniques would you like to add to this list? Share those with us in the comments section below.


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