How to Train Effectively? Increase Retention

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.


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