Making It Stick: How We Learn and Remember

What makes learning memorable to you?  Think back to one of your favorite learning moments. Maybe it was related to a favorite teacher in junior high, a new concept in a book you read, or a new skill you mastered.

What made it so memorable?

“Learning and remembering are all tied to creating literal neural connections in our brain.”

Studies in learning psychology and brain science show that learning and remembering are tied to creating literal neural connections in our brain. It’s no surprise then that the way we learn is by making many “connections” to new information or tasks.

Learning experiences that make an emotional connection or tap into our internal motivations can be extremely memorable and effective.

We also remember better when we connect something new to an existing framework or model in our minds (previous experiences).

If we have multiple exposures to a new idea or skill from multiple angles, we make even more neural connections. We then begin to build proficiency and expertise in that area.

So what does this mean when teaching or communicating aspects of Process Safety Management (PSM) to others?

It means that we should incorporate these brain-friendly strategies into our trainings and discussions to make them more effective and memorable.

Tell Stories

Stories have a tremendous impact. They allow for emotional resonance and can connect the material to the learner’s experiences. There are your stories, the learner’s own stories, and stories from peers and the industry.

In our Five PSM Mindsets™ training, we often show the CSB (Chemical Safety Board) video “Reflections on Bhopal After Thirty Years”. In the video, the devastation makes an emotional impact on the viewer, building a sense of internal motivation to avoid a similar incident at all costs. The CSB video and incident report library is a tremendous resource for industry stories.

Those who have been in the petrochemical industry long enough have their own stories that they have seen or heard or lived through. These can be especially powerful. I will never forget my first supervisor sharing his participation in the incident investigation of an event that resulted in the death of a contractor.

The emotion he displayed – and sobering reality of the potential hazards of this industry – have stayed with me twenty years later.

Use Analogies

Analogies can also be great learning tools because they connect new concepts and ideas to well established mental models. For example, a favorite Provenance presentation demonstrates the Management of Change process via the relatively familiar task of building a fence for your yard.

Make Connections

Another effective tactic is to connect new material to the learner’s current project or responsibilities. Beyond the memory benefits of considering possible applications, there is potential for them to practice the new skill or concept, cementing the learning even further.

In the end, by incorporating these brain-friendly strategies, you will be creating memories that impact how people approach process safety.

About the Author – Sarah McDuffee

Sarah McDuffee joined Provenance Consulting in 2015 as Training Program Coordinator, creating internal and external training courses for industry clients on various Process Safety Management topics. Her background includes 19 years of experience in the refining/chemical industry. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University.  Her 11 years with a major refining company included project design, process unit support and distillation consulting roles.

She completed her Masters in Adult Education and Training with Colorado State University in 2011 while working for Northern Oklahoma College as an engineering instructor for 5 years. During that time, Sarah also served as Program Director for the Process Technology program for four years, partnering with industry on curriculum, recruiting and placement.