Seven principles of learning

Principles of Learning and Training

The 7 Important Principles of Learning That You Cannot Ignore

As a trainer, your role is to maximise learning. Delivering a course can be hard work. It requires preparation and careful planning. You need to spend valuable time during the delivery as well as before the course. After all the effort that you have gone through, if your delegates don’t learn anything new or forget most of the lessons taught in the course shortly afterwards, you might as well not bother with the training at all.

Hence, to deliver a useful training course, you should consider the 7 most important principles of learning. Without keeping these critical principles in mind, you risk delivering a poor course, alienate your delegates from the training subject and waste your own time in the process.

The 7 principles are as follows:


Principle 1: Attention Span is Limited

People’s attention span is limited. With so much going on in the world and the ever increasing number of “stuff” to pay attention to, people have less time to spend.

Research shows that people become increasingly more interested in a topic within the first 10 minutes of being introduced to it. However, after 10 minutes their attention span drops sharply. Within 30 minutes you will be struggling to hold any attention.

Hence, you need to introduce a subject, get to the point quickly and then move on to a related topic to keep learners engaged and interested. To manage attention, you must use frequent participation, discussions and training exercises.


Principle 2: Learning Requires Motivation

Recall from your past experience that if you were not interested in a topic, how easy or difficult you found the topic. It is most likely that you found it hard. Unmotivated leaners don’t learn. People lose interest when they don’t know why they have to learn something. If delegates don’t know what you are trying to get at, their attention wanders off. Make your content engaging. Always follow this proven technique when explaining tools and techniques:

“Explain what you are going to tell them, tell them, and finally explain to them what you have just told them”


Principle 3: Learning Curve is Not Flat

People don’t learn about everything with a constant speed. There is a learning curve involved in everything. As learning continues, people’s progress starts to slow down as they reach a plateau. Learners need to become confident about what they have learned and also relate this to everything else they know. This is why they reach a learning plateau. After spending some time in the plateau, learners can follow a second learning curve and move on to more complex topics.

As a trainer it is important to be aware of learning curves and how they vary between people. Some people might be quicker to learn but require more time to reach the plateau. Others might learn slowly, but once they “get it”, progress rapidly. When running a training course, awareness of learning curves is particularly critical since a training course is, by definition, more interactive than a lecture and hence tailored to an individual’s skills, knowledge and learning capability.

In practice, this means that the course should contain a lot of hands-on exercises to allow delegates to progress on their own while being supervised by you, the trainer. Periodic discussions and question/answer sessions will help learners to reach their learning plateaus and get ready for the next phase of learning.


Principle 4: Short Term Memory is Limited, Long Term Memory is Limitless

Over the years there has been a great deal of research on human memory. It is now well established that human memory works based on two related systems.

  • Short term memory. With your short term memory, you can hold about seven items plus or minus two depending on circumstances or the individual.
  • Long term memory. Our long term memory is somewhat unlimited. For example, research shows that if an individual is shown 10,000 images and then is shown a control image, he can accurately tell whether the control image was part of the collection or not! Amazingly, even if the control image is inverted or flipped, the success rate is still very high.

When it comes to long term learning, the transition from short term memory to long term memory is critical. When presenting content, aim to present them in no more than seven parts. Help learners to familiarise themselves with smaller number of concepts quickly and efficiently without feeling overwhelmed. Use repetition and rehearsal, both short terms and long term, until the content is fully memorised.

This principles also means that we cannot learn too much too quickly. Trainers who cram a course or lecture with tons of content thinking that they are delivering a comprehensive up-to-date course are making a bad mistake. Learners cannot take it all in and the effort will be wasted.


Principle 5: People Have Different Learning Styles

People learn differently. People generally have one of the following preferences:

  • Visual. They like to see images, diagrams, words and illustrations to understand a particular concept.
  • Auditory. They like to listen to an explanation.
  • Kinaesthetic. They like to learn by doing. For example, they prefer to hold an object in their hands, examine it and interact with it.

A trainer should consider all methods while going through a training course. Accommodating all methods might not always be possible but it is possible to simulate conditions to cater for certain preferences by carefully planning and designing interactive exercises that use all three senses.


Principle 6: Feedback is an Essential Part of Training

Learning can be difficult and tiring. To keep learners motivated, a trainer must provide adequate and relevant feedback. However, not all feedbacks are good. Consider the following:

  • Your feedback must aim to motivate rather than discourage or scare the leaner.
  • Your feedback must make the learner feel more confident, not to destroy his self-esteem.
  • Your feedback must be specific so the learner can benefit from it. A generic “You are doing well” might not be registered all.
  • Your feedback must reinforce new learning points and discourage old and bad habits.
  • Your feedback must indicate the present state of learning to the learner and provide a way forward for the learner to move on to the next level.

Trainers must always be aware of the incredible power of positive feedback in encouraging learners to challenge themselves and push forward until they learn a new concepts or techniques. A trainer’s role here can be critical since without feedback, learners would not know if they are doing well or which direction they should go next. Lack of adequate and specific feedback can considerably slow down the learning process and goes against the principles of accelerated learning.

Remember, 60% of factual information will be forgotten within 2 days if what was learned is not reviewed or rehearsed. Periodic review is much like a self-feedback. It is critical that leaners know about the potential memory loss. Properly designed training must consider this and provide course follow-up and action plans to reinforce learning and prevent leaners from forgetting the content quickly.


Principle 7: Take Advantage of All Senses

We have five main senses. Rather than appealing only to one of them such as vision, training can be greatly improved if all senses are engaged. This requires careful planning and introduction of interactive exercise that encourage use of other senses such as touch to learn concepts and techniques more effectively.

Following these 7 simple yet powerful principles allows you to provide effective training courses that are remembered well afterwards. The training will prove to be a good expenditure of both your time and the learner’s time and of course, if your training is good, people will keep coming back for more.

Ponder over the above principles and score yourself from 1 to 5 on how much you adhere to them. If you are not happy with your score, find out what you can do to improve your training delivery and take immediate actions.

Using carefully designed training materials such as those provided by us is a good starting point. However, as a trainer you must be constantly aware of these 7 important principles while using such training materials so you can provide the best training courses in the market.