Learning is supposed to be hard.

That’s why learning, development, and training in today’s workforce is widely ineffective; we’ve made it too easy. 

Employers today have made training nearly effortless so that it’s easier for leadership to deliver, and this method of learning clearly isn’t working. Employees forget 70% of what they learn within just three days when using traditional learning and training platforms, and 87% is forgotten within 30 days.

Recent developments in cognitive science have unlocked new insights into how learning works, and the research has found that the way most of us learn, study, and train is largely ineffective — and even useless in many cases.

The good news is that science has also uncovered what makes learning highly effective, so we know the solutions to make learning stick long-term. All of these insights are detailed in Peter Brown’s bestselling book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, and in 1Huddle’s accompanying Bring It In podcast episode featuring Peter himself. 

So if you want to know what cognitive science tells us about memory, the human brain, and the science of learning, then keep reading to discover the three keys to make learning stick:

1. It’s not just ok to struggle — it’s necessary. 

Leading cognitive science has proven that struggle is critical to memory. If we aren’t challenged when taking in new information, we don’t retain it.

Learning works when you struggle with something new, try it in different ways, connect it to what you already know, and finally get that aha moment. Building connections in the brain is a matter of practice at retrieving information and applying it over time, which is why trial and error turns out to be highly effective for successful, long-term learning. 

Think about a baby learning to walk: the baby doesn’t read a manual or watch a video on how to walk; they try, they struggle, they fall. They try again, they fall again, and then they repeat the process over and over until they finally take their first steps. All humans learn best from trial and error, which makes struggle-based learning the only way we can master new skills and retain information over the long-term.

2. Effective learning requires frequent, low-stakes quizzing. 

One of the key findings outlined in Make it Stick is that engaging in low-stakes quizzing after reading a text or listening to a lecture produces the best results for memory and retention.

Don’t worry —  science isn’t asking us to take more exams or standardized tests to learn effectively. Low-stakes quizzing means there isn’t a significant penalty for getting things wrong. You’re being challenged, but in a way that’s fun and competitive. Think about a trivia game where you’re continuously covering the same topics: the more you hear the same trivia question, the more likely you are to get it right. Plus, frequent low stakes quizzing is actually fun and pushes us to outwit the competition; that’s why Jeopardy has been on TV for 37 seasons.

When it comes to making low-stakes quizzing effective, the key is to pull older information back out and connect it to what you’ve learned more frequently. So if you take a quiz over chapter one of a book, you shouldn’t simply move on and take a quiz from chapter two of the book, moving on completely from the first chapter. You should take a quiz that incorporates information from all the chapters you’ve read so far so that you’re able to intake new information while still retaining what you’ve already learned.

3. Learning should be varied or randomized. 

When learning new things, scientists recommend mixing up the problem types. 

For example, if you’re trying to identify birds or paintings, the idea of seeing them in a random sequence might seem highly counterintuitive. Most people tend to assume they learn best when information is presented in a ‘block fashion,’ where you master one topic at a time before moving on to a new one. However, test results from a scientifically-organized case study on learning found that the opposite is true: we learn best when we intake information in a somewhat random matter.

So there you have it. If you want to make learning stick, it has to be struggle-based, challenging, and varied. 1Huddle was built on the science of successful learning, and if you want to find out more about what makes learning stick, you can check out Peter Brown’s Podcast episode on 1Huddle’s Bring It In podcast!