From Learning to Retention

Submitted by Mike Shea on Fri, 03/15/2019

For learning and development professionals there are three targeted approaches to leading a workshop. These approaches include say only what you need to say, be well practiced and prepared, and get straight to the point. Sometimes we think because we are given two hours for a presentation we need to have “filler” in our presentations to meet that expectation. This is why TED talks use the 18-minute rule. This is long enough to be serious about a topic, but short enough to hold a person’s attention. Learners come in all shapes and sizes and this guide will help give you a plan that will help guide you to meet the needs of people of all abilities.

According to the United States Census Bureau there are 15.2 million people in the United States with a cognitive learning disability. Learning disabilities are neurologically based processing problems. These processing problems often will interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing, and math. They also can impact a learner’s retention of material through both short term and long-term memory. The term learning disability is an umbrella term for describing many specific learning disabilities. There are also 8.1 million people in the United States that have difficulty seeing and 7.6 people that have difficulty hearing. These are all have a large impact to the diverse group of people entering a room to learn and develop.

The Environment

The bottom line when giving a presentation is that the learners that have come to your workshop do not want to be bored or have any other sort of distractions. The first can be how the room is set up. This is the time to get creative. Often people who have had a negative experience in school will feel an increased anxiety level automatically when they walk into a room that is set up like a classroom. This can affect their learner right away. It is important to think about the best environment possible depending on the learning you’re about to present. Some examples may be a “U” shape set up or group tables. You can also have people move to new groups throughout the presentation to offer many different perspectives and collaboration.

Be Active

There is a lot of research that shows that people often will pay better attention when presented with an interactive game or activity first. In learning and development this is called gamification. Gamification in education and training can optimize the brain’s processing of new information. When thinking about an icebreaker to start your presentation, think about improving people’s energy by getting people to move around. Moving around will help prepare the room for engagement and learning.

Utilize the Learner – Ask Questions

Questions are always welcome. This is important from both sides, the learner and the instructor. Ask the learner what they are expecting to get out of this presentation. This can help provide you with a guide in how to engage everyone. You can use this information to point out more useful information as you go along. It also important to make sure everyone can see and hear your presentation. Many disabilities are invisible, and you may not know that you need to provide additional resources unless you ask.

Be Flexible and Prioritize Clarity

Learners in most cases will be walking into the room with divided attention. It may be a deadline they have approaching, a cellphone with an important email, or someone that may need frequent bathroom breaks. Being flexible with shorter time windows will help these learners stay engaged. Let people know up front when to expect breaks and pauses between learning.  When the learner knows how long they are expected to be engaged, this can increase focus.

Repeat the Cycle

Activity or game, asking questions, facilitate learning, apply learning, and reflect on learning is the cycle of your presentation. Ask a question or tell a story about the information you’re providing. Allow the learners this time for reflection to ingest the learning they just took in. Repeat the cycle. Remember accommodating your presentation so that it meets the needs of many individuals will improve the effect of your presentation.


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The Rocky Mountain ADA Center's blog, Access Granted, tackles ADA issues through unique and diverse perspectives. Articles are written by staff of RMADAC and a variety of special guest authors. Some may be educational, others might be personal or thought-provoking. Either way, Access Granted will bring you the ADA of today!

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