“Learning”is defined as “the acquisition of knowledge or skill.” “Retention”is defined as “the preservation of a learning in such a way that it can be identified and recalled quickly and accurately.”Just because we “learn”something does not automatically mean that we will retain it.
We can learn something for just a few minutes and then lose it forever. As anyone who has ever crammed for a test knows, it is possible to acquire knowledge and (hopefully) retain it just long enough to take the test. However, unless we have a reason to continue to access that knowledge or we can associate it with something very meaningful to us, we will forget what we learned almost immediately.
According to David Sousa in How the Brain Learns, learning and retention are different:
- “Learning involves the brain, the nervous system, and the environment, and the process by which their interplay acquires information and skills.”
- “Retention, however, requires that the learner not only give conscious attention but also build conceptual frameworks that have sense and meaning for eventual consolidation into the long-term storage networks (of the brain).”
There are many training design and facilitation techniques that can increase the probability that learning will be retained. The more understanding and meaning the learner can attach to new learning, the more likely it is that the learner will be able to retain the new learning and retrieve it when needed.
We have discussed some of these retention-enhancing techniques in past Tips.
The key point to remember now is that learning, or the acquisition of knowledge or skill, does not automatically equate to retention of that knowledge or skill.