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Quick Read, Quick Forget, Slow Down To Learn Something

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How much do you forget after you read something? Percentage-wise it varies unless you review or practice repeatedly what you read. Much of what you read evaporates or gets ambushed by everything else that is going on in our lives and forgotten after the first day and more each day afterward leaving you with a fraction of what you comprehended if anything.

We have created computers to help us do our work and lives easier and faster. What we have created is an environment that tricks us into thinking we can learn as quickly as the information is delivered to us. We have out-processed our ability to learn effectively. I talk to people who can spout all kinds of facts, quotes, and opinions and have become very effective at pontificating. When I ask them to synthesize the information into what that means to them and how they apply the information to the work they are doing I usually get blank stares.

Fast food information 

The barrage of information has turned us into a fast food information society. Much like the fast food we eat, it contains little to no nutritional value. It fills us up at the moment and in the long run, it doesn’t do much for us.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Dr. Daniel Kahneman, Eugene Higgins Profession of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, tells us that our modern brain still processes and learns exactly the way we did centuries ago. 

In the 1960’s Edger Dane, an American educator, developed his Cone of Experience which theorizes that learners retain more information by what they do as opposed to what they read or hear.

  • 10 percent of what they READ
  • 20 percent of what they HEAR
  • 30 percent of what they SEE
  • 50 percent of what they SEE and HEAR
  • 70 percent of what they SAY and WRITE
  • 90 percent of what they DO

Today, educators like myself refer to learning by doing as experiential learning. The other day I stopped to read an online article titled, “How to Develop Trust With Your Team”… a 3-minute read. Think about it. Would you like fries with your trust?

This is the long game part 

Over the years I have spent many hours in training, conferences, and professional development only to have forgotten most of what I heard by the time I left the parking garage let alone the next day. Changing behavior is hard work, takes time, and can’t be done in three minutes.

One of the biggest failures in corporate training is the lack of experiential learning, I know this and have seen this personally. You sit in a training, workshop, or team builder listen to someone talk and show you slides about a topic or concept for an hour or two. You leave the training, then what? In most cases, nothing. Okay, you are told to apply the learning, then what? Nothing.

When it comes to corporate training or any type of training, it’s important to understand follow-up or what we refer to as experiential learning. 

  • Develop engaging training with a practice component.
  • Send the trainees back to work or their teams, put into practice what they learned, and write about the experience in a journal.
  • Reconvene in one to two weeks to share with the group what happened. What worked, what didn’t work, and what could have worked better? Learn from each other. 
  • Challenge the group to continue to practice the work with their teams to anchor the learning.
  • Create leader groups that meet once a month to continue discussing the learning and practice.

This is a simplified version of actual training and is much more effective than meeting once and hoping something sticks. I often get pushback on the second meeting because of time. I usually say, then don’t bother with the training in the first place, it will be a waste of time because, at the end of the day, most people will have forgotten 50 to 90 percent of the information.  

Exercise | Deliberate practice

If something is interesting and worth learning or the development of a skill, expect to take more than three minutes to make it happen.

Your journal is a crucial tool in the development of your skills and abilities. This is why teachers always tell you to take notes in school. It will increase the percentage of retention when it comes to new knowledge. 

If you are on a bus, train, carpooling, or plane and you just need a quick read, go for it. It’s better than doing nothing and may lead you to a topic that you are really interested in. If you are serious about the learning prepare yourself to take time to make it happen.

  • Identify a topic, skill, or behavior you want to study and work on and write it in your journal.
  • Write down what you want to learn, and the challenges or barriers to learning that skill or changing that behavior. 
  • Write out small steps you can take to overcome the challenges or barriers. Cross out the challenges you overcome and write down new challenges you didn’t think of. This is a work in progress.
  • Hold yourself accountable by sharing with a friend, partner, peer, or your team what you are doing.
  • Deliberately practice over and over.
  • Improve your practice, and make adjustments in your thought process or approach. 
  • Continue to practice every chance you get, even when you think you have it mastered.

Be persistent, passionate, and patient with your personal or leadership development. My dad always told me if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, otherwise it’s a waste of time. 

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.   


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