​Although learning is often associated with school, the fact is, people learn throughout their lives. This is true more than ever, as new technology is constantly being introduced. In the business world, companies need to train new hires and keep employees updated on the latest advances. The science of knowledge retention is worth studying, as it helps you design more effective training. When you need to teach something, you need to understand how retention works and how to address the needs of different types of learners.

Learning Retention in Adults

When you create online courses, you’re not simply creating a school for grown-ups. It turns out that there are important differences in the way children and adults learn.

It’s been widely observed that children learn many things more quickly than adults. For example, a child picks up a second or even third language fairly easily while adults struggle at memorizing vocabulary and rules. Children also tend to learn sports, how to play musical instruments, and other tasks fairly quickly. In a blog for Gottesman Libraries Teachers College, Abdul Malik Muftau explains that in adults, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is more developed, which makes adults see things in a more fixed way. However, that’s only part of the story.

Adults are Self-Directed and Motivated

One of the main differences in teaching adults is that they need to be self-motivated. Christopher Pappas, in the eLearning Industry, explains some key characteristics of adult learners. While children tend to absorb things naturally, adults need to make a conscious effort to learn something new. Adults’ fixed mindset makes them less open-minded and more resistant to change, which is why they need to understand the relevance of what they’re learning. For example, if they’re learning how to use the software, it helps to explain exactly how online training will benefit them.

Adults Relate New Knowledge to Personal Experience

While children have less experience to draw upon, adult learners tend to connect new knowledge with what they already know. When you teach adults, you aren’t dealing with a blank slate, but with minds that are already full of facts and experiences. This can work in the favor of eLearning, if trainers are able to leverage new information by relating it to common experiences.

Doing and Teaching Improves Retention

As we’ll see below, people have different learning preferences. However, almost everyone will retain more information if they repeat out loud and actually do what they’ve been taught. One influential learning model, the Learning Pyramid, postulates students retain only 10% of what they read but 75% of what they do and 90% of what they teach to others.


How to Increase Learning Retention in Online Learning

The way adults learn has important implications for online learning. The following are some key points to keep in mind when developing an LMS or online course.

  • Emphasize relevance. Since adults are self-directed, it’s not enough to present information in a purely abstract way. Emphasize how it will be put to use. Some learning, such as a type of process or software, helps employees do their jobs more efficiently. Other types of knowledge, such as policies on workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, can have serious consequences for employees’ careers. In all instances, pointing out the major benefits of learning and possible negative consequences of failing to learn, can help improve retention.
  • Use analogies and connect new ideas and processes with older, familiar ones. Since adults are always processing new information in relation to what they already know, it helps to bridge ideas.
  • Have learners practice and repeat what they’ve learned. This gets back to the above statistics about learning retention. It’s much more effective to have someone perform a task than to simply learn it by reading or hearing about it. That’s why the most effective learning management systems use technology such as gamification and interactive video.
  • Use chunking. The chunking technique involves taking small bits of information and combining them into groups. Finding connections between items and categorizing them makes it easier to remember. A simple example is how we remember long strings of numbers such as phone numbers or social security numbers. Rather than remembering each digit separately, we group them into sets of 3 or 4, as in 123-456-789.
  • Use frequent assessments and quizzes to measure progress. It’s essential to track learners’ progress as often as possible. The very act of taking a quiz or assessment helps to reinforce knowledge. It also lets you review the course and make adjustments in your approach.

eLearning to Meet the Needs of Different Learning Styles

We’ve looked at some general principles concerning the science of learning retention and adult learning. It’s also the case that people learn in different ways. When creating a course or an online training program, you have to meet the needs of diverse learning styles. Let’s look at some ways you can design a course that accomplishes this.

The Primary Learning Styles

  • Reading Prefer the traditional method of reading material.
  • Visual Learn best by seeing.
  • Auditory Retain more of what they hear.
  • Kinesthetic Need a hands-on and experiential approach.

People don’t necessarily fit into one single category. However, it’s common for learners to have a preference for one or two of the above modalities.

Provide Coursework in a Variety of Formats

With today’s technology, it’s possible to create courses that incorporate multiple learning methods. The material can be presented in a variety of formats, such as text, audio, videos, and interactive games. When the information is presented in diverse formats, it’s better able to meet the needs of different types of learners.

Use Personalization

A personalized approach to learning lets individual learners make choices about how they learn. Even if everyone needs to reach the same goals and perhaps pass the same assessments, they don’t necessarily have to get there by the same path. Knowledge Anywhere’s LMS, for example, lets you create custom learning paths that are designed to meet the needs of individual learners. We also have a large focus on branded content and personalization.

Keep Looking for Ways to Improve Retention

The science of learner retention is constantly evolving. Results also depend a great deal on the environment and motivation for learning. For example, employees who know that training can help them advance in their careers tend to be more motivated learners than those forced to undergo annual compliance training. Yet all types of learning can be presented in a way that optimizes retention by emphasizing the benefits and meeting the needs of diverse learning styles. Testing your results and making changes when appropriate allows you to observe which methods provide the best knowledge retention for your needs.

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