Make It Stick: Helping Learners Retain Information To Apply In The Workplace

Home / Blog / Make It Stick: Helping Learners Retain Information To Apply In The Workplace

Learning is fundamental to training.

It’s easy to focus on the information we want to disseminate. Create a handout, make a PowerPoint. Talk. Not so hard. We put the responsibility on the shoulders of our learners to take in the information and decipher how to use it when they return to work.

Training gets trickier when we focus on how we want people to learn to use the information we share in a productive way when they return to the job. When we design our sessions so that we not only provide information, but give people an opportunity to practice, we have created training.

As trainers we need to focus more on learning and less on telling.

How do we go about providing more opportunity for learning to really occur?

Peter Brown in the book, Make it Stick, discusses 5 concepts important to learning. If you as a trainer can learn these concepts, you will design and deliver more effective training.


Fluency versus Mastery
Active Retrieval
Interleaved Practice
Think You Can

Fluency versus Mastery

Have you ever crammed for an exam only to forget the information a week later? This is the idea of fluency versus mastery. We can encourage our learners to become familiar with ideas and information by having them read, reread, and highlight. However, this doesn’t lead to mastery or long term learning. They may know it at the end of class, but can they apply it on the job?

To attain long term mastery, learners need to process the information in a more cognitively demanding way.

Rather than rereading, we can have them explain ideas to each other. This deepens their understanding and requires them to move beyond simple regurgitation of ideas. We can deepen mastery through retrieval practice. Retrieval practice can become the heart of our training design.

Active Retrieval

Remember using flash cards? Did you test yourself or have a friend test you?

Yes, retrieval practice is all about testing our knowledge. Testing, especially low stakes testing, helps us to deepen our knowledge. We learn more when we are quizzed.

You can provide low stake testing through frequent use of quizzes and games throughout your training. Use Kahoot to provide a fun, tech centered method for retrieval. The novelty of Kahoot is a great way to engage learners.

Other methods you could use include:

  • Learners create flash cards at the end of modules, use for reviewing in pairs or as table groups
  • Create a game that requires people to recall information from class
  • Ask learners to create a quiz that their peers take at the end of class or at a midpoint of class

Interleaved Practice

Interleaved practice means we need to change things up, moving away from massed practice. Imagine having learners do the same type of calculation over and over and over again in one huge chunk of training. Seems economical right? It doesn’t produce the long term mastery we are hoping to achieve though.

Instead, we can interleave practice. Give them one type of calculation to work on and intersperse it with different types. Change it up.

In Make It Stick they refer to learning to hit a curve ball. Without talking baseball for too long, the short story is that those who didn’t know what pitch was coming as they practiced performed better than those who did a mass practice of curve balls.


Can you explain what you just learned? Can you explain it so a five year old can understand it?

To move to mastery, we’ve got to be able to elaborate on what we’ve learned. Through elaboration we connect our new learning to the wisdom we already carry.

You can quickly add elaboration to your training by:

  • Having everyone write their understanding of the concepts just covered in the previous module.
  • Have learners explain to each other what they just learned in a module
  • Have learners teach each other concepts that they’ve learned
  • Have learners record short videos on their phones, explaining the concepts they’ve learned

Think You Can

“If you think you can or cannot, you’re right”

In order to learn, you must believe you can. Stuck in thinking you can’t? Well, you probably won’t.


If you’ve read Mindset by Carol Dweck, you’ll be familiar with this concept.

Our learners have to approach learning with a growth mindset in order to take on the challenge learning. Met with an obstacle, do they keep on going or get stuck? Mindset is critical to success. This can be a tricky one to overcome, but not impossible.

As trainers we can help learners adjust their fixed mindsets by asking them questions at the beginning of a program.

Questions like:

What happens if you fail at learning this?

What is your biggest fear in facing this topic?

Use language that helps people to develop a growth mindset. My favorite is to add, “not yet” to the end of things I can’t yet do. Encourage your learners to do the same.

When we give our leaners the time and support to learn in our training environments, we will see better results on the job. Moving from simply being fluent in a subject to mastering it takes work, but it is work that needs to be done to create organization change and productive.

I have a challenge for you now. Discuss the five elements to learning with someone. Practice retrieving them and then elaborate on each. Consider telling a story from your own experience to explain each. It may seem difficult at this moment, but with practice you can do it. You’ll be a master in no time. I’d love to know how it works for you!

Want to dive even deeper into making learning stick? Join me for my two-day Trainer as Facilitator of Learning in November. Details and registration here. 

Do you have questions? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments section below.

%d bloggers like this: