What Works in Training: Repetition

In previous articles, I have discussed the following research-backed techniques for training: Using multiple senses Chunking the content Aligning the […]

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In previous articles, I have discussed the following research-backed techniques for training:

This month, the research-proven technique for learning is a very simple one: repetition. There is more, however, to this simple idea than first meets the eye.

Many years ago, when I was fresh from college, I worked for a private educational company that taught speed reading and study skills. One of our basic concepts was expressed as Repetition + Reinforcement = Retention. This was our 3 Rs of learning. We went on to explain that repetition was about repeating the material. Reinforcement meant repeating it in different ways. Retention meant long-term memory of the material. These days, Repetition + Reinforcement are what I mean by repetition – repeating the information in different ways.

It is true that just repeating the same information again in exactly the same manner – reading it multiple times, hearing it multiple times, seeing it multiple times – will increase understanding and retention, if the learner pays attention to the repetition. Instead, if the learner thinks, “I already heard/read/saw this,” they might tune out and think about something else. That’s where repeating information in different ways becomes helpful. This repetition not only helps the learner pay attention to information that they have already been exposed to, but it can help deepen their understanding as they see the information in a different way.

Some of the techniques I use to effectively repeat information include:

  • One-minute reviews sprinkled within the content presentation to have people pause and reflect back over the material just presented.
  • For multiple-day courses, utilizing beginning-of-the-day and end-of-the-day review activities. And I do mean activities – active reviews of what was covered the previous day or in the current day. This could be a review relay, metaphor creation, an improvisational teach back, a ball toss, a graffiti wall, beat the clock races, setting and reflecting on daily learning goals, and many other activities that help learners reflect upon and understand more deeply the content or skills they are learning, including the connections between different content/skills covered.
  • Not giving out full copies of the presentation but providing note-taking guides to encourage repetition by participants writing their own notes.
  • Practice using knowledge and skills through role plays, tests, games, puzzles, and application activities.
  • Telling stories that help create better understanding and retention, and doing activities where the participants have to create the stories as well.
  • Bringing in experts who are familiar with the knowledge/skills to share their experiences and help participants see more clearly how they will use the content in the workplace.
  • Action planning at the end of any training session where participants have to think back about what was covered and select a limited number of items that they want to remember and use back on the job, with specifics on how they will do that.

One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced trainers make is to believe that if they have covered the material, the participants have learned it. Just telling people something or having them read it – especially in the middle of a lot of content – rarely sticks very long with anyone. To help learning stick, repetition in a variety of different ways is one of the most important tools a trainer has.

What is your favorite way to utilize repetition in training?

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