ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


5 Ways to Make Learning More Memorable

You spent 30 minutes going over a concept or process in refresher training or in a team huddle, and a week later, a team member says, “We didn’t go over that” or “I didn’t know that.” What frustration for the hard-working trainer or coach! What can you do to help make learning more memorable? Here are five strategies for increasing memory that you can use in training, in team huddles, in coaching sessions, and in your own life.


Draw it

It doesn’t matter how poorly or well a person draws, just by diagramming a process, drawing pictures of a concept, or doodling, people remember the content better. People do this all the time by sketching out things on a flip chart, whiteboard, the back of a napkin, or whatever is at hand. It creates better understanding and increases memory.

Taking notes by using concept maps (graphically enclosing text in shapes and drawing connectors between concepts) and sketchnotes (Doodling on the content using shapes, connectors, and text) are great ways to capitalize on drawing’s ability to reinforce memory.

One of my favorite activities that incorporates drawing is to ask participants to write down 3 keywords from the content just covered. Then I instruct them to draw a doodle to represent each word. I explain that a doodle can be a line, a shape, a squiggle, an icon, a cartoon, a symbol, or anything visual. Then I have them share their doodles with those sitting near them. This really does increase their memory of the key points in the content – as identified by them as well as by those sitting near them.

Write it

If we write down information, we are much more likely to remember it. That means it is much more effective to take notes by hand rather than using a tablet or computer (unless you are actually writing on these devices rather than keying into them).When I create handouts or workbooks, they are not just copies of the slides. I purposefully leave out keywords for the participant to fill in. And I leave plenty of room for them to add in additional notes and comments. This guides the participant in writing down key things without putting the burden on them of copying every word and drawing every diagram.

I want them thinking about the material and not just rotely copying material. So asking people to write a one to three sentence summary of the content just covered and sharing it with others capitalizes on writing as a memory aid.

Do Something Active

If someone does something active while repeating or reciting information, they are incorporating their muscle memory to help them remember the content. For instance, if they stand in a different place in the room for each step in a process, or make a different signal for each step. One activity I use is called Bend, Breathe, and Write. Participants drop their pen on the floor, bend over to pick it up, then stand up and stretch their arms out to the ceiling. Then they write (with their pen in the air) a word or phrase that is key to the content just covered. Finally, they sit and share that word with their neighbor. It’s a simple active exercise that reinforces their memory.

Visualize and Imagine

Ask participants to visualize themselves doing something connected to the content and being successful, even going so far as to close their eyes while they visualize. Getting them to visualize success helps people remember, and even better, it helps them see the benefits of changing their behavior in line with whatever is being trained or coached.

Along the same lines, you can ask participants to imagine how the content relates to them. One study found that this kind of imagining actually tripled the amount people remembered.

This is a great way to “prime” participants at any point in the training. Prime them to imagine themselves as resilient, empathetic, and/or knowledgeable, and often they will proceed to be just those things. You can do this with guided imagery (“Imagine yourself sitting at your cubicle, waiting for the next call. It’s been a tough day with difficult calls and one particular customer who was really yelling at you. Then your supervisor comes over and tells you that the difficult customer who was yelling at you this morning just sent an email complimenting how well you helped him. How does that make you feel? What did you do that was so good for this customer?”) or just ask them to visualize themselves using the process or information with customers without providing a lot of detail in your instructions.

Having a debrief conversation afterwards can also help you “tune” their visualizations and imaginings to make themselves more successful.

Tell stories

Stories evoke emotions that are truly necessary for making a change. Facts and data alone will not move us to change; emotions will. One study paid participants $5 to listen to a pitch for a charity. In the end, participants had the option to donate part of their fee to the charity. Those who had listened to a pitch filled with data and statistics donated on average $1.43. Those who had listened to a touching story about one person donated on average $2.38. Emotion and empathy made a big difference in moving people towards action, and with their ability to remember the information.

Another study found that participants though rhyming statements were more accurate than the same information conveyed without rhyme. If you combine that with telling stories, you are more likely to sell participants on the value of the content and bringing about the behavior change you want, and having them remember it.

I have a few catchphrases that I use from time to time. I remind myself that “dinosaurs are easier to kill when they are small” as a prompt to stop ignoring that little problem and address it before it gets any bigger. Or “eat the frog” to prompt me to stop procrastinating and take care of that difficult thing I’ve been ignoring. Both phrases have full stories behind them that are boiled down to the short statement as a reminder. Do that with your stories and people will remember.

Using these five strategies – drawing, writing, being active, visualizing, and telling stories – will help your participants be more successful in transferring the learning to their work. And the next time someone says “We didn’t go over that” or “I didn’t know that,” you can remind them of the drawing, the writing, the activity, the visualization, or the story to trigger their memory.