Key strategies from the science of learning for your RTO

Helping other people to learn is a challenge we continually face in RTO’s. During your TAE training you would (well should) have learned many theories and ideas around getting the message across.  There is an art form in helping people to learn. Yet not many of us are taught to do it in a way that relates to the person you are teaching.

Pooja Agarwal the co-author of a book called Powerful Teaching says there are three stages to learning. The three stages of the learning process are encoding, storage, and retrieval. Encoding is when we get information in and absorb knowledge, almost like a sponge. Storage is where we hope that once we encode information, our knowledge sticks around. Retrieval is when we reach back and bring something we previously learned into mind.

We tend to think that most learning occurs during the encoding stage, but a wealth of research demonstrates that learning is strengthened during retrieval. We tend to focus too much on getting information into peoples’ heads (encoding) and not enough on getting it out (retrieval). Encoding means inputting information into our heads via a podcast, reading a book, or face to face training course.


Retrieval is the end process where we pull information out of our brain. You might be thinking, of this is the formative assessment part.  It isn’t. I am referring to the learning process, and how the person can recall that information at any given stage after they have been in the training.

Retrieval in this context is actually about the learning process. We are wanting to know if the student learned something and did it stick. What Pooja says is we learn when we retrieve. I totally get this as I know that I learn most when I teach others, or tell a story about what I’ve learned. Pooja says the act of retrieving helps us to put the information into the future. She says “We learn when we use stuff.”

The act of practice makes it more permanent.

Key ways to get it to stick are:

Get curious.

This is what I love about this process is the fact of using coaching skills in the role of training. For me this being curious. Asking questions. This is when we consult our memory and consider what we know.

As a trainer your role is to ask questions of your students so that they recall the information, share it and then they are more likely to remember it. Practicing retrieval has shown to boost learning by pulling information out of students’ heads (e.g., quizzes and flashcards), rather than cramming information into students heads (e.g., lectures).

I know from my own facilitation of qualifications is the best reviews of my sessions is when I’ve really asked them to think about what has been said. Whilst initially people resist, in the end they love it, and really get value from the training.

Brain Dumps. Pause your lesson, lecture, or activity. Ask students to write down everything they can remember. Continue with the learning activity.  

Ask – get them talking in pairs or individually – tell me what you remember from this conversation?

Get them to write a brain dump – What are the key things that you remember from this project that are deliverable?

Write 3 points that stood out for you from the information so far.

When we read books sometimes we highlight, write notes. What pays off in the long term, is to close the book and write down the top 3 points you’ve just read. You might feel this takes time, but you will benefit from this time of retrieving information so much more.

Retrieval practice is a learning strategy, not an assessment strategy.

Consider ways to incorporate retrieval practices into your training delivery. Conversations and sharing stories are a form of retrieval. As a trainer or coach you want others to do the work. You ask the questions, they unlock their own potential by responding with what they have learned. This way you’re helping them to learn, rather than teaching them.

Short term learning doesn’t help us to learn that for the long term. As a leader you want to embrace long term learning. An example is cramming for exams. Cramming works, but only in the short-term.


For things that really matter in our business consider ways to have a long-term retention, incorporating spacing is very effective. Spacing boosts learning, and is based on research. This rather than cramming information into a three hour lecture, try giving information over three one hour lessons over a period of time. Incorporate retrieval opportunities into the time frames.

In a meeting ask someone to recall what they have done, or learned.

Silence is a measure of success. Allowing the silence, allows the thinking to take place. This brings the neural connections and they are increasing their capacity. As an introvert this is a common practice, we need the time to process the information in our brain. So often people are uncomfortable with silence, and they jump in before we’ve had time to process. When we have silence, it gives us the right to measure out our answer.


Metacognition is thinking about our own learning. The awareness of our own learning. When someone is comfortable with their own metacognition, they ask for feedback and then become aware of what they know and don’t know. Let people be uncomfortable and find out if they know or not. This allows you to become more aware of your own learning. As a leader you can help raise their (the student) awareness of whether they have it or not. You can do this by being curious. Encourage an environment of people retrieving and making mistakes and be comfortable in making the mistakes.

Ask questions that have no right or wrong answer to encourage your learners to realise they will not be told off or get it wrong. For example what is your least favourite ice-cream flavour? It helps with the retrieval process, and allows others to see there is no consequences.

Give people a moment to think about “do I know, or do I not”


Interleaving or mixing up subjects, boosts learning by mixing up closely related topics and encouraging discrimination between the differences or similarities.


Learning Styles Don’t Exist

Dan Willingham has done extensive research on learning styles. Even though history talks a lot about VAK learners, there is no significant evidence that visual, auditory, and kinetic preferences correlate to actual learning. Research demonstrates that we learn more effectively when we learn in different ways. What we as trainers, or coaches want is for someone to learn the meaning and this is independent of whether it is VA or K. You can store memories in any of the three formats. Everyone will retain more over the long term when you teach in all learning styles. Instead, effective learning combines all these methods.

It also depends on the content. So often you have to go through the motion. People may have a preference for one style, but it doesn’t correlate to capacity to learn.

Of course, in all learning in the workplace you need to consider the organisational outcome you want to have come out of the new skill or behaviour you are working on. It’s not enough just to get the other party good at actions – they need to understand how these actions fit into the big picture.

As soon as you try something new you will get resistance. It is up to you to break through that resistance, and make the change in your business. It’s not personal, it’s part of the system of your business. I’m here to help if you need me.

Enlightenment comes in many forms

Connect with Merinda for a 15 minute discussion of your RTO dreams, and strategies to get there. 

It is FREE. 

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