How to Make Your Training Stick

Ever wondered how much information sticks during training? 

How can you help your team to absorb more of the training you give them, and increase the chances that information will “stick” and be put into use for the long term? Let’s take a closer look.

Cognitive Load Theory

According to psychologists who have studied how people learn, the human brain can be expected to absorb a relatively small percentage of the information delivered in a learning situation – at times as little as 10 percent. But it is possible to improve that percentage dramatically.

To do so, it is important to understand Cognitive Load Theory, which is the effect that sensory inputs have on your ability to process information and learn. When your senses are processing a lot of input, they filter how much information gets passed on into your short-term memory. In training, for example, your learners are dealing with a lot of input that is competing with the information you want to teach. They’re adjusting their eyes to see your slides, getting distracted by other people in the room, trying to get comfortable in their seats, and maybe even getting their first gulp of coffee.

When information does get around that sensory/cognitive load, it makes it to your short-term memory, where you think about it. You judge it and if it is memorable, it then gets passed into your long-term memory where we can use it later.

To summarize, if a learner decides that information is important when it is in short-term memory, he or she will unconsciously transfer it to long-term memory. That information becomes what he or she learns from the training.

How Long Does Information Reside in Short-Term Memory?

The answer to that question will probably surprise you, because new information only gets processed for between 10 and 15 seconds in short-term memory. If that information doesn’t stick during that time, it is lost. So, think of short-term memory as a kind of buffer zone that fills up quickly, and then empties as new information flows in.

What Can Help Get Information Passed from Short-Term Memory to Long-Term Memory?

  • Mnemonic devices – Back when you were a student in high school, you might have memorized the sentence, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” to help you memorize the planets in our solar system in the order in which they appear from the sun. (The words in that sentence stand for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.) Acronyms are useful in training, too. For example, the acronym AIDA (standing for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) is sometimes used to remind us of different stages of making a sale.
  • Activities – Participation in shared group activities is another effective way to reinforce concepts and help them move into long-term memory. So are quizzes and self-tests delivered at key moments during training that reinforce concepts and skills.
  • Resources to be used after training – A content library to use once training is done can be very effective in making sure key concepts move into long-term memory. For example, you can create an online content library for your team to access; it explains procedures and concepts that were covered in your training, though probably not fully absorbed.
  • Storytelling – Let participants tell stories that explain experiences they have had that relate to a concept or skill you are teaching. (“Here’s what I once did when a customer was having that problem…“) Storytelling reinforces key concepts for the person who is telling the story as well as the listeners.
Storytelling reinforces key concepts for the storyteller as well as for the listeners. Click To Tweet
  • Scenario-based learning – Present a simulated situation, then let participants work through it and try solutions. This helps learners realize, “If this happens, this is how I will handle it.”
  • Certificates and certifications – They allow trainees to feel satisfied and rewarded for learning specific skills or behaviors. When people have been recognized for learning important information, it tends to stick.
When trainees have been recognized for learning important information, it tends to stick. Click To Tweet

Include Games Too!

Games resonate especially well with Millennials, although all of us like them. Play works much better than bombarding people with information. For example, you can have trainees practice new skills in a virtual environment that replicates a prospecting situation

Add a competitive element, as competitive games can help training concepts stick. Healthy competition, in which we try to outperform others, can go a long way toward getting learning to stick. For example, you can give a quiz and keep score on a white board until someone wins.


There are many ways to get a better ROI from training. You can revise your materials, hire or become a more energetic trainer, send your team off to a weekend retreat, and take other steps. All good ideas, but ultimately unlikely to provide a big payback unless you make sure you’re delivering a training that sticks.


brannon-dreherBrannon Dreher is a Client Engagement Manager at Tortal Training. In the learning and development space, Brannon provides blended learning solutions to create customized learning solutions for his clients, while increasing the effectiveness of the company’s human capital. Brannon brings a continual learning focus and communication skills to produce quantifiable results.



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