Think back to when you were a very young child. Now imagine if instead of allowing you to crawl or walk, your parents told you about the principles and expected you to be able to do it just from hearing their instructions. This would have been impossible. Now picture yourself watching a video about riding a bicycle. Do you think that watching that video would have taught you how to get onto your bike and ride without ever falling?
The human brain learns by doing things. Practical application of learned knowledge is the basis of how we memorize new information. While it is altogether possible to learn a new topic through rote memorization, or by book learning, it is not nearly as effective as trying out this new idea ourselves.
How does a hands-on activity enhance retention rates?
- Studies have shown that a student (whether child or adult) will learn a new material three times faster through practical application versus a traditional lecture environment.
- Having access to the materials that will be used in a real world circumstance creates a concrete link in the brain between the idea and the action. It also prepares the student more thoroughly for the tasks that lie ahead.
- Lessons taught from a book or lecture are only conceptual and abstract. Imagining what a porcupine looks and feels like is nothing like actually touching a porcupine. Our imaginations can only take us so far.
- Hands-on training builds muscle memory. A lecture on how to type on a keyboard quickly will have little effect on the mind and the body. Giving a student a keyboard to use will not only help them remember the key locations, but also build their muscle memory for typing accurately and quickly.
- Practice makes perfect. This old saying will always be applicable in the real world. To become well versed in any idea, topic, or labor; one must practice as often as possible.
- Studies through the National Training Laboratory Institute show that “practice by doing” has a 75% retention rate outcome. The study also shows that being able to immediately apply the learned knowledge in a real world situation increases retention rates by 90%. Measure this against the traditional method of hearing a lecture that only has a 5% retention rate.
- When we learn by doing, we have the opportunity to learn from our failures. While most people strive to avoid failures, they are one of the best teaching tools available. A chef in training will always remember the mess that was made when they burnt their first gourmet French dish. Having the experience of dealing with that headache will stick with the individual, they are more like to remember what not to do in the future.
If you want your employees or trainees to have the highest retention rates possible, you must create a practical environment for them to learn. Simply supplying lectures or written information will not be effective on the whole. Increase their level of “doing” and you will automatically increase their levels of retention.