How to Train Effectively? Increase Retention


After 2 months of planning, where you researched your audience’s needs, built training objectives around them, and primed your audience, you offer an incredible training. A month after the training, you’re conducting post-training visits and see that less than 20% of participants implemented what you taught, and only 30% can remember the two key points from the training! What went wrong?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Even a perfectly planned training does not ensure retention and implementation of training material. We cannot control for all the reasons a participant may or may not remember or implement the lessons. However, we can strategically design our trainings with techniques proven to increase participants’ retention and, subsequently, implementation.

What is Retention?

Retention is the ability to absorb and contain information. Imagine watering a potted plant and watching the soil absorb the water. That’s what we want our participants’ brains to do when we teach new training material. We want them to absorb the information and store it away in their long-term memory, where they can then call upon the information to make future decisions.

However, often during trainings participants only absorb a fraction of the information presented. Even fewer implement what they’ve learned.

High learning retention is an important component of an effective training that results in change. Here are a couple of our favorite tactics to increase participants’ retention:

Control the Amount of Information Presented

You’re watering your potted plant, and you accidentally dump all of the water from your watering can into the plant. Water flows out from the holes in the bottom of the pot, puddling on the floor. You’ve overwatered, and if done repeatedly, your plant may die. The same can happen to our brains.

Be incredibly intentional about the amount of information you give to your training participants. Review our post on learning objectives for more information on how much to teach in a given training.

Pace the Training

Next time you water your houseplant, you carefully give it the correct amount of water, ensuring the dirt has enough time to absorb the water as you pour. Then you leave your plant alone for a day or two, allowing it to slowly absorb the water from the soil and grow before repeating the process. Each plant needs a unique amount of water to grow best. You’d never give your cactus as much water as your basil plant; it would drown.

Our training participants’ brains are similar. Each brain responds best to a specific amount of information, administered at different intervals, to absorb (retain), and then grow (implement). You must know how much your participants can absorb and at what intervals to properly pace a training. Pacing and content absorption should vary depending on environment, education, profession, and personal preferences. An outdoor training on a new farming technique has very different pacing and content delivery than an indoor lecture on the importance of irrigation.


Chunking is when you group information to help you remember it. During a training, information should be chunked, or grouped, so only one key point is discussed at once. At the beginning of the training, identify the different “chunks” and then, as you train, make sure you transition between them. Visual aids can help participants understand how the information is grouped. Use different colors in the presentation to illustrate chunks.

Pacing - Chunking - Association - Repeat & Retrieve - Bring it Home

Here we broke up the topics of this blog post into colored chunks. Each part of our presentation would be in the color corresponding to its chunk.


In our post on priming the audience, we talked about the importance of association pre-training. When training, use association to help the participant’s brain connect and relate to new concepts. I’m sure you all remember the illustration I mentioned earlier in this post about watering plants. Use a similar illustration to introduce a topic and then connect to that illustration throughout the training.  In doing so, you connect an unfamiliar concept with a familiar one, increasing participants’ understanding of both.

Repeat & Retrieve

Although your information should be clearly chunked, as you move through different parts of your training, ask participants to repeat what they learned earlier. For example, Reader, what is the definition of retention? Repeat and retrieve with your participants frequently. More opportunities to interact almost always increases participants’ engagement and ensures everyone has a chance to share.

Bring it Home

Always assign training participants homework. Even if you’re offering a one-day event and are unable to follow-up with participants personally, give participants a couple key action items they can implement on their own. Homework can involve reviewing the material taught, but should always include at least one or two action items participants should complete before the next interaction, be it a follow-up visit, call or subsequent training.  At MoveUp, training participants take a digital class that includes a post-training test to review what they learned.  They also share on a discussion board how they’ve implemented the material in their lives. Make sure participants know about homework at the beginning of the training.  Participants will be more likely to engage and ask questions if they know that later you’ll be checking in on them to see how they’re applying it.

After you’ve paced, chunked, associated, repeated, and retrieved training information, and have given your participants a post-training assignment to complete, your participants will walk away with higher retention from an effective training.

Thank you for joining us on this mini-series on Effective Training! We hope we’ve given you some practical techniques to apply in future trainings and trust that those techniques will result in positive changes for you and your training participants.

MoveUp provides actionable education through digital solutions to under-resourced communities. Contact us if you’d like to learn more or partner with us.

How to Train Effectively? Set and communicate learning objectives

, ,

This is the second post in our mini-series on How to Train Effectively.  We began the series by discussing about the importance of priming your audience before a training—read about it here.

Imagine a foreign aid expert giving an incredibly designed, didactic training about new technology to a group of community leaders in the Dominican Republic. At the end of the training, the expert is sure that everyone will implement the new technology. But when he checks back in a few months, no one has.

Why? The training was about a new low-cost irrigation system for farms.  The community is largely comprised of fishermen. The few farmers who did attend the training were not given any practical follow-up steps on how to install the irrigation system afterwards.

Was the training effective?  Of course not! The expert was preaching a fascinating new product to the wrong audience. The few farmers who did attend had no idea how to start using the new technology, and no one in the fishing community knew how to help.

The foreign aid expert made common training mistakes.  He did not know his audience or their needs and wants before offering his training.  Additionally, he did not provide clear learning objectives before, during, and after the training.  The foreign aid expert would benefit from developing clear learning objectives for his future trainings, based on what his audience needs.

Learning objectives provide you with a clear guide to follow in the preparation, execution, and follow-up of the training. They also provide your audience with clear training expectations as well as what you expect they will learn and apply post-training.

So, how do you create learning objectives?

Know what your audience needs and wants

How often do we design a training without truly understanding our audience’s needs, wants, desires, and prior educational experiences? This is an essential pre-training step that should direct you as you develop your training and learning objectives.  At MoveUp, we use pre-training surveys, community and market research, and other resources to understand our audience and what they want to learn.  Then, we build our trainings and set clear objectives for them.

Write SMART Learning Objectives

Once you have identified your potential audience correctly, you are ready to write your outcomes.  To ensure learning objectives are appropriate for your audience, we recommend developing a maximum of 3 SMART learning objectives.  Less is more, especially if a training is just a few hours long. The SMART method (read more on Mind Tools) says that each objective should be:

  • Specific: The outcome should be simple and significant.Chess piece with crown
  • Measurable: There must be a way to measure if the participants have achieved the learning outcome. It may be asking a question, sending out a post-training quiz, or following up in a month.
  • Achievable: Make the objectives actually achievable for participants in the timeframe of the training. What is achievable for you as a subject expert may be different from that of your audience.
  • Relevant: The objective should be focused on your audience’s problems and motivations.
  • Time-Bound: Make sure to include a due date for accountability. 

Don’t fall into the expert trap

If you’ve taught a subject a number of times, it’s easy to feel like an expert and skip or rush through pre-training preparation. But don’t lose sight of the purpose of teaching:

We train so participants can learn.  Training is about participants learning, not about us teaching.

Take your time and think about what your audience needs to learn. Build your training about what they need to hear, and not around what you want to teach.

Stay on message

Before starting to plan a training, think about how it will fit into the mission, vision, and strategic plan of your organization. Perhaps the school leaders you work with desperately need training on teaching students with autism.  While incredibly important, if your organization’s mission is to help school leaders develop resiliency, this topic does not directly relate to your mission.

When organizations try to meet the needs and desires of their beneficiaries instead of staying true to who they are, this leads to mission drift, a common issue in the social sector.

Make sure participants know the training objectives!

Training objectives are just as important for participants as they are for educators. Learning objectives provide clear expectations and help participants set their own educational goals.

At MoveUp, we have found that providing training participants with learning objectives help them feel more supported as they learn. They leave with an achievable goal, like “finish the follow-up course within two weeks and prepare a list of all expenses before August 31.” They also know that in the first week of September we’ll be following up with them (via chat or a personal visit) to see how they’re doing.

Clear learning objectives are key for you as a trainer as well as for your participants.  With specific objectives, your training will be more effective and participants will be engaged and focused on implementing what they’ve learned.  Next week we’ll talk more about engaging your users by improving retention.

If you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

Let’s continue the conversation about training effectiveness. Follow us on LinkedIn and reach out anytime to get in touch.

How to Train Effectively? It Starts with Priming your Audience

, ,

All of us have participated in a training where the material went right over our head and we left without a single practical application.  There are many reasons a training might be ineffective.  Today we’re talking about one simple way to increase the effectiveness of your training, and it all happens before you start teaching!

Prime your Audience

Priming your brain involves exposing yourself to one stimuli before you are exposed to another type of stimuli.   For example, if I say “yellow” and then 10 to 30 seconds later say the word “fruit,” what comes to mind?


Great!  The word “yellow” helped your brain associate with a banana when I mentioned the second word, “fruit.”  If you mentioned pineapple or mango, or any other yellow fruit, your brain was also primed.  (Psychologists study this in depth — read more here on Very Well Mind or Psychology Today).

At MoveUp, we know and celebrate the value of priming in providing effective digital and in-person education.

Megan’s Personal Finance Class

Megan signed up last week for a training on personal finances. The day of the training, a typical Tuesday, she woke up at 5:30 that morning to do a quick workout and drop her kids off at school, spent 9 hours at work, and raced to the training, arriving 10 minutes late…and ready to learn about personal finance?! Megan happens to be a marketing manager at a large company; it’s probable she didn’t think about personal finance all day.  As the training facilitator launches into an explanation on how to build a family budget, Megan’s mind wanders to the dirty laundry awaiting her when she gets home. Slowly, her head begins to droop.  She jolts back awake, and spends the next 15 minutes frustrated by her inability to understand what the facilitator is writing on the whiteboard.  This is a completely normal and common occurrence when individuals participate in a training event if they haven’t been prepared for the training before attending.  Unprimed brains plus our busy lives and constant distractions can lead to very low retention.

To learn something new effectively, our brains must be prepared first. It’s not enough to simply say, “Okay, time to learn the quadratic formula!”  Priming is not complicated, but it is intentional.  Here a couple of best practices to help you prime your participants for upcoming trainings. These practices can be applied across a wide range of trainings and events, virtual or in-person, for all different learning styles and levels.

Prime the learner before they sign-up for the event

Event invitations should prime participants for the material covered in the event.  Let’s continue with the personal finance training as an example.  Perhaps after the in-person training, you upload a post promoting a webinar on personal finance to your organization’s social media.  In the post’s description, you provide a sentence or two about what the training is about.  Then, when individuals click to sign up, they are automatically directed to a page to sign up for the webinar that has much more information. Be sure to use bullet points, graphics, and other visual aids to encourage participants to read this information and internalize it.  Be sure it is NOT just a paragraph of text written in small print.  This text “primes” the participants for the content that will be discussed in the webinar.

Prime the learner before the training

After signing up for the webinar, your participants return to life as normal, and probably forget most of the information mentioned in the invitation and sign-up page. It’s important to prime participants again before they arrive to the training.  At MoveUp, we do this with a pre-training quiz on our mobile application.  These quizzes, which are normally 1 to 4 questions and take less than 2 minutes to complete, serve to wake up the participant’s mind to the topic we’ll be discussing.  A quiz is much more effective than a paragraph of text, as participants are forced to engage with the topic.  It’s up to you whether to provide the answers.  We like to not tell the user if they got the answer correct to add a bit of suspense. Making the quiz a pre-training requirement is another good strategy to help participants understand the importance of the material and the training itself.

Start the training by…yep you guessed it! Priming!

You cannot assume participants arrive to a training ready to engage in whatever you’re talking about, be it personal finance or how to use Photoshop.  This is true regardless if the training is physical, virtual, or even in an individually paced course.  Our minds are complicated and wild, and prone to wander to whatever is most pleasurable or interesting.  If that’s not personal finance or Photoshop, then you’ve lost your audience. If you had users complete the quiz, you can quickly ask individuals to volunteer their answers.  You can make the activity more participatory, having everyone who responded “true” stand up when you say true (if physical) or sending out the quiz again on a webinar platform to gather and show the survey results.  There are many other ways to prime learners when starting a training. What is important is that you do it, and that hopefully, this is the third time the user has been primed to think about the topic you’re going to teach.

Now you, and your participants, are truly ready to learn! Priming does not ensure participants will be engaged, but it is an important first step to ensure they are set-up to do so. Next week we’ll continue our series on how to train effectively by talking about setting and communicating learning objectives.


Are you interested in how MoveUp primes users for learning on our mobile learning platform? Contact us today!