Using Championship Memory Techniques to Make Learning Stick
What is the connection between training in your organization and the following list of items?
- A randomly shuffled deck of cards
- A collection of names and faces
- An unpublished 50-line poem
While these are just some of the memorization requirements at the annual USA National Memory Championship, the techniques used to memorize them may be the answer you’re looking for to increase learning retention in your organization.
If you’ve ever watched a memory competition and marveled at the ability of the competitors to memorize any of the items mentioned in the list above, you were probably thinking, “I could never do that.” You may have seen memory experts rhyme off the names of everyone in a 250-person audience, and wondered, “How did he do that?”
Winners of memory championships around the world and Guinness record holders for Greatest Memory all claim they have average memories. They are not savants, nor do they have photographic memories. Some even suffer the additional burden of having been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. One thing they all agree on is that anyone can do what they do – memorize huge amounts of information.
It’s all about technique and understanding how the memory works.
Why Don’t We Remember Things?
You've often heard it said, and you may even have said it yourself, that you can't remember what you had for breakfast this morning. Why not? Well, here are some reasons people forget things.
- The information/situation didn’t even register on their “awareness meter”
- They weren’t fully focusing or concentrating on the situation
- It wasn’t particularly memorable
- They were trying to multi-task
- They didn't have an organized system for mentally filing and retrieving the information they wanted to remember
If you survey a group of people, most will admit to having a bad memory. They would probably be surprised to know that remembering isn’t a random act. It can have structure, and as a result, having a good memory is a learnable skill.
What Does This Have to Do With Training in Your Organization?
Learning doesn’t always stick. You already know that. You also know that the source of the problem could be in the training design, in its delivery, or in the follow-up on the job.
When it comes to training design and delivery, some presentation techniques such as lecture-style data dump or learning through reading leave the responsibility for remembering on the learners’ shoulders: Here is the information; now remember it.
If you’re a good designer, chances are you’re already including interactive hands-on processing and reinforcement activities to help your participants learn. However, reviews take up a lot of time. A common weakness in the review process is that there is no structure, no filing cabinet, if you will – it’s just repetition. How many repetitions will your learners need for the learning to truly stick? Two? Five? Seven?
What if you could speed the process along? What if you could:
- Help your learners commit content to memory faster and shorten the learning curve?
- Save time and money during the learning process by eliminating most of the necessary repetition or re-training?
- Help learners move information from the awareness stage directly into long-term memory?
- Multiply the likelihood of training transfer to the job?
How Do We Make Remembering Easier?
Information is just words – many just abstract concepts. The key is to encode things that are abstract in a way that makes it easier for the brain to remember. There are 3 elements that boost memory:
First, there is the concept of rarity.
Imagine yourself driving to work. On most days, there is nothing unusual about your commute. It's the same traffic day in and day out.
Today is different. Suddenly you see an enormous elephant on the freeway. Since here in North America elephants are usually found only in zoos or at the circus, seeing one on the road is an unusual and rare occurrence. When you get to work, you excitedly describe your experience to the first person you see. “You wouldn't believe what I saw on my way in to work this morning! There was an elephant on the 405 near the exit to the Santa Monica freeway!”
The next time you drive past that very same spot, there is a good chance that you’ll remember the elephant. You may remember it for weeks, months, or even years to come.
The second element that makes things easier to remember is visualization. When you recounted the experience to a colleague, did you think of the word “elephant” or did you picture it? Most people think in images. They are easier to remember than words or abstract concepts. When describing the elephant experience to others or driving past that same location on the 405 you would be able to recall the elephant’s size, color, and movement from the image in your mind.
Thirdly, there's association -- or what I like to refer to as Velcro® learning -- stuck or attached to something else. That elephant is now stuck to the 405 in your memory so that the next time you drive past the same location, the incident springs to mind.
What Does This Mean to You?
Memory athletes (competitors in memory competitions) learn huge amounts of information by utilizing systems and creating mental filing cabinets that incorporate rarity, visualization, and association into structures that multiply the ease and speed with which they can remember information. Different types of information warrant different systems – some considerably more complex and time-consuming to learn than others.
You may have heard of some of them – with names such as the link method, the journey method, the Roman room or memory palace, the peg system, the major system, the Dominic system, the phonetic method, the number/rhyme or number/shape method, and so on.
If memory systems work for others, why not borrow from their success? Why not use these memory techniques to enhance and speed up learning?
I can already hear your objection. “Learning is more than just memorizing a bunch of content.” I agree. Employees and managers need to be able to apply the content by troubleshooting, problem-solving, innovating, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating.
Consider this. If they learn the content faster up front, you can re-focus the training time and get on to the important task of helping them learn to apply the information that much sooner.
What do your participants need to remember?
- Features and benefits of products and services
- Steps of a procedure
- Equipment needed for a particular task
- Key points contained in company policies
- Customer information
- A presentation
When deciding on a particular memory technique to use in your training, you’ll want to take a few things into consideration.
- The time constraints of training programs in many organizations necessitate squeezing as much information as possible into as short a period of time as possible.
- Your participants are not training for the USA National Memory Championship, so the easier the technique is to learn the better.
- The system should be usable over and over again.
Your organization may best be served by providing the staff and management with memory training in a multi-step process – first as a generic skill, and then by incorporating the techniques into every training program to ensure retention of course-specific content.
If left up to the individual, allocating time to learn memory techniques is likely to be relegated to the bottom of the to-do list (if it even makes it onto the list at all). It is well worthwhile including them in every training initiative. Your organization will reap the rewards – savings in time and retraining, and increases in retention and transfer of learning.
Memory improvement happens quickly when structured techniques are used. You will be amazed at what you and others remember!
Ida Shessel, B.Sc., M.Ed., has been a professional speaker, author, and facilitator for over 30 years. For 15 of those years, she was a senior consultant with an award-winning train-the-trainer organization, facilitating their workshops at meetings and conferences across North America and beyond. She is the author of several books including Communicate Like a Top Leader.
Ida can triple your memory in under 30 minutes!
For the free special report, Secrets of a Top Communicator, go to http://www.idashessel.com. For more memory tips, visit Ida’s blog at www.ImprovingYourMemoryTechniques.com,