Getting the Most Out of Training Classes

Studies on brain function, learning and retention have shown that there are physiological issues that can help or hinder effective learning.


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The skills needed by the workforce to remain competitive in a global market now are not the same skills that were needed 10 or 15 years ago. Training or retraining the workforce is now a business imperative; smart employers will look for ways to make the most of their investment. Accelerated learning techniques can help.

In my research as a project manager and trainer, I’ve discovered accelerated learning techniques that have helped thousands of people successfully prepare for the Project Management Certification exam by enabling them to learn and retain a lot of complex information quickly and permanently.

Of the four elements of Cheetah Learning’s PMP program that can significantly speed up learning (and can speed up projects), the most accessible to all is “The Peak Performing Mind.”

Studies on brain function, learning and retention have shown that there are physiological issues that can help or hinder effective learning. Incorporating some minor changes in professional training sessions can pay big dividends in your training investment even though some of it sounds downright counterintuitive.

Ban the Coffee Urn, Lose the Platter

During training sessions, the brain achieves optimal performance with high protein foods, water or juice and fruit. Caffeine or caffeinated drinks and high carbohydrate/high fat foods both interfere with the brain’s ability to take in and retain information, especially information concerning motor skills.

In other words, the coffee urn and the platter of Danish usually present before a daylong training session are the exact wrong things to serve a group who must learn new skills quickly and thoroughly. Despite popular positioning as the “think drink,” caffeine and caffeinated beverages are not necessarily helpful when learning is the goal. Caffeine tends to stimulate the areas of the brain that handle short-term memory, but not long-term memory. A NIMH-supported study at the University of California, San Diego and reported in Behavioral Brain Research found that coffee interfered with motor learning skills and verbal memory.

Keep Moving

Everyone knows the value of exercise to help ease stress and release natural endorphins into the body that aids in relaxation. However, something as simple as a short walk can re-energize and recharge a group stuck in a conference room for hours at a time. Scheduling a brief 10 minute walk before or after a lunch break, for instance, increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reaches the brain—it needn’t be a brisk pace (which would require leg muscles to demand extra oxygen and glucose). Walking oxygenates the brain, clears the mind and can ready it for the next learning module.

Retention Pays

Repetition improves memory. In advertising, the maxim is that people need to see an ad eight times before they will remember it. For the key points you want your employees to remember, find at least three different ways to convey it, and describe those three ways at least three times.

Make Learning a Team Effort

When I did Project Management consulting in manufacturing environments, I noticed that workers took more actions to keep their co-workers safe than they took to keep themselves safe. Similarly in our Cheetah Learning programs, we’ve found that when we give the entire team points for finishing activities on time, or coming back from breaks on time, every individual performs at a higher level to avoid letting the team down. By every metric, people who are committed to the team get better results. I have found that building in team exercises in the learning experience enhances it by inspiring the members to make an extra effort.

Rest and Relaxation

There is also some evidence that sleep—or a nap—enhances information processing and learning. Past research by National Institute of Mental Health grantees Alan Hobson, M.D., Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., and colleagues at Harvard University show that a 20-percent overnight improvement in learning a motor skill is largely because of a late state of sleep that some early risers may be missing. (These same studies also found that a midday nap reverses information overload, but my classes compromise with a 10 minute break every hour to avoid burnout.)

This suggests that the brain uses a night’s sleep to consolidate the memories of habits, actions and skills learned during the day and that morning sleep perfects a skill better, so perhaps a training session should not be scheduled any earlier than a normal work day would start.

Of course, “The Peak Performing Mind” is only one part of accelerated learning as practiced at Cheetah Learning, and increased training is only one part of the challenge facing manufacturers in the new economy. Creating new skills and having them become habits to be used instinctively are the keys to responding quickly to changing market forces.

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the “Cheetah Success Series” and a keynote speaker and industry thought leader. E-mail her at