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3 Tips to Help You Remember What You’ve Learned

TabletYou’ve probably heard the expression use it or lose it. It turns out this applies to learning as well as physical fitness. There is a force that gradually erases all the great insights and instruction you stored in your brain during a learning event called "The Forgetting Curve.” German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus first researched this concept in 1885. The curve illustrates the decline of our memory retention over time if we make no attempt to retain our learning. The further we get from the educational experience, the less information we remember.

The speed at which we forget information is influenced by various factors including the difficulty of the material, how meaningful the information is and how it’s presented. Stress levels and lack of sleep can also have a negative impact. Thankfully there are steps you can take to help you retain what you learned. Here a few of my favorite tips to help you remember.

  1. Leverage note taking apps for efficiency

Most learning events (conferences, workshops, virtual classrooms, etc.) present a vast amount of information in a very rapid manner. If you can’t successfully capture rapid-fire insights, then you can’t retain or apply that learning because those insights escaped you. Leverage technology to maximize these moments and keep you in the race for valuable knowledge. Instead of frantically searching for a new pen once yours inevitably runs out of ink just when the best key takeaway is being shared, consider exploring some powerful apps to increase efficiency.

One of my personal favorites is Evernote. This app has the capability to format text, integrate images in-line with text (using the camera feature to photograph whiteboards or slides is popular), search within notes and tag locations and much more. Evernote is downloaded on both my iPhone and iPad. I use it to synchronize all my notebook entries.

  1. Share and distribute

Summarizing your key takeaways and insights as if you were planning to teach them could be one of the best ways to retain and apply learning. Research studies show that you can only teach something when you’ve retained that information. An easy way to do this is to share your insights with colleagues at work, via social media channels and/or communities of practice. If you leverage technology apps for efficient note-taking, you have the capability to post directly to Twitter or LinkedIn.

  1. Designate a drawer and bookmark browser articles

At your workstation or in your home office use folders for storing articles, slides and participant workbooks from conferences and workshops. Digitally you can store infographics, articles and whitepapers in your online browser bookmarks. Or create a Pinterest board for your professional development. You can pin things you want to read or review later and even share your board with your peers.

Each person has their own preference pertaining to hard or soft copy documents, but mine is to walk around, even if I am just pacing around the office, with documents in hand. I use one color highlighter to mark the strongest, most relevant points and a different color for the nice-to-know points. These valuable documents are then stored in a drawer designated for professional development. My calendar is blocked for two hours of professional development each week. Pulling open my drawer can push my efforts forward towards retaining and applying learning insights with greater intention. 

Actively engaging with educational materials and sharing your learning will help you make the most out of your professional development opportunities. Determine what works for you and create a plan before your next learning event to help you commit your new knowledge to memory.

AICPA ENGAGE provides you with the opportunity to attend up to 6 conferences in one unique event. Grow your knowledge in a host of areas including cybersecurity, diversity, personal financial planning, tax, firm practice management and marketing. Attend online or onsite, June 11-15.

Michael Grant, Director, Learning Design & Development, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Tablet courtesy of Getty Images.

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