The Easy Way to Learn, Courtesy of Psychologists

easy way to studyAs a trainer, it’s pretty intuitive to understand your role as an imparter of knowledge. Your students’ brains, in this common sense understanding of learning, are like buckets into which you dump key facts and concepts. Keeping those facts stuck there is simply a matter of will and hard work on the part of learners. If trainees want to retain what you have to teach them, it’s time for them to break out the highlighter pen and trusty notebook and hit the books.

Only you may have noticed a slight problem with this straightforward understanding of the learning process – it’s often miserable. Anyone who has crammed with a deck of flashcards or done their level best to will the information off the slides in front of them and into their brain can attest to the fact that desire to remember is often not enough. Repetition helps some but it takes forever and is mind numbing.

But what if there was an easier way to learn, a way validated by psychologists and simply ignored by too many educators and training pros? Such a painless study method exists, according to fascinating psychology Mind Hacks. In a post outlining how “research into how memory works should have revolutionized” teaching, the blog outlines a method of learning that’s “more effective, more enjoyable and easier.”

Deep processing

What is it? In a phrase, deep processing. Mind Hacks explains what happened when researchers gave students lists of words o remember and tested their recall under different conditions:

To affect their thinking about the words, half the participants were told to rate the pleasantness of each word, and half were told to check if the word contained the letters ‘e’ or ‘g’. This manipulation was designed to affect ‘depth of processing’. The participants in the rating-pleasantness condition had to think about what the word meant, and relate it to themselves (how they felt about it) – “deep processing”. Participants in the letter-checking condition just had to look at the shape of the letters, they didn’t even have to read the word if they didn’t want to – “shallow processing”. The second, independent, manipulation concerned whether participants knew that they would be tested later on the words. Half of each group were told this… and half weren’t told, the test would come as a surprise….

Whether or not a participant wanted to remember the words didn’t affect how many words they remembered. Instead…. Participants who thought deeply about the words remembered nearly twice as many as participants who only thought shallowly about the words, regardless of whether they intended to remember them or not.

Lessons for trainers

The implications for trainers are significant, according to the blog. Forget insisting trainees passively remember the facts or outline you have in mind. To remember, they need to actively manipulate the material, linking it other parts of their thinking or work.

“You need to think about what you are trying to remember means, both in relationship to other material you are trying to learn, and to yourself,” says the blog.

So forget lectures and aim for something more active. “We should be thinking hard, always, about how to create teaching experiences in which students are more active, and about creating courses in which students are permitted and encouraged to come up with their own organization of material,” concludes the post.


Is the way you’re presenting training materials making learning them easier or more difficult?

(Image courtesy of Flickr user Moravsky Vrabec, CC 2.0)

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London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for

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