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Learning is a natural part of the human experience; but for many in the Learning and Development sector, training can be wrought with frustration when the process of effective learning is bypassed or ignored.

Dr. Joe Pulichino from Navex Engage breaks down the process with the “AGES” model: Attention, Generation, Emotion, and Spacing (along with repetition and retrieval).

Given that the human mind can only pay attention for about 15 minutes before fatigue sets in, it becomes essential to find ways to keep learners engaged for the duration of their training by providing adequate breaks. The brain will continue its learning even during these short breaks, but will avoid exhaustion or boredom in participants.

Generation in learning allows learners to “connect the dots” between what they are learning with what they already know – which helps solidify the material and improve retention.

We are emotional beings, and process a lot of the world through an emotional lens. Connecting your training to the emotions of your participants helps improve associations. An added byproduct is that learners stay motivated to engage in the learning because they are emotionally invested.

Spacing, along with repetition and retrieval, helps stave off the dangerous statistic that 65% of training is lost within a week. Spacing helps create frustration during retrieval, which increases the strength of neural connections – resulting in greater mastery of the training essentials.

Be sure to continually reinforce the purpose behind the training, as well as the impact that the application of the learning will have on the participants’ lives. What is the goal of your learners? Why are they here? How are they going to use the training? Getting students to answer these questions will keep them motivated to stay attentive throughout the training and will help them build stronger connections to the material.


Joe Pulichino:                  The first thing we have to ask ourselves is, what is learning? Learning is a process. Learning is a process that enables human beings to adapt, to grow, to survive. Therefore, it has a very natural function. What’s going on inside our heads that enables us to learn new things, remember them, and then act on them later so that we will survive.

When we apply the neuroscience of learning, and by the neuroscience, I mean both the biological and the psychological elements of how our brain works, we find that there’s four variables and it can be described very simply by the acronym AGES. We need attention. We need generation. We need emotion and we need spacing. To the spacing part, I would add repetition and retrieval as well.

In order to learn something, we have to pay attention to it. Our attention is always being challenged on a minute by minute basis. If we’re not focused in on what we’re learning, if we’re not paying attention to it in the moment without any distraction, we’re never going to be able to remember it. Make sure that people have frequent breaks. It doesn’t need to be a long break, but the science shows us that people only can pay attention for 15, 20 minutes at a time before their brains begin to get tired. The time that you’ve used in the breaks pays back tremendous dividends.

What we mean by generation is when the learner generates their own meaning out of what’s been learned, when they’re able to associate the new learning with things they already know with knowledge and skill they already have. We achieve generation by keeping people active, by giving them activities and exercises that helps them come up with that meaning.

We all can remember where we were when something fantastic or dramatic happen. We remember those things and we remember the surroundings, remember what we were doing. We remember who we were with. What we want to do is attach emotion to the learning environment. If we can get people motivated to access their motivation of why they want to learn these things, what good it will do for them, the dopamine in their brains is activated. This activates their hippocampus and now the memory receptors are turned on. If people know that they’re going to be called on, if they’re going to have to respond to each other, they’re going to be more emotionally committed.

Spacing learning out over time has tremendous benefit, especially when it’s coupled with this idea of repetition and retrieval. Most corporate learning development programs that we see do not take this last part into account. They want people to get into a classroom for a day or two days or a week, fill their heads with things, let them go off. What happens inevitably is within 30 or 60 days, most people have forgotten what they learned.

The final thing, and this is very, very important, to keep emphasizing at the beginning, middle and end of the training is, what’s their goal? Why are they here? How are they going to use that? Everyone is going to have a different answer to that question. You want to keep weaving that in. You want to tell them how other people have used this information and how valuable it could be to them. Get them to always be reflecting on how they’re going to use this going forward.