Tip #370: Why Frequent Breaks are Important for Learning

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“Lucid intervals and happy pauses.” Francis Bacon

It may seem counterintuitive, but participants will learn more during a training program if there is less training time and more frequent break times. Ideally, ten-minute breaks should be given approximately every fifty minutes.

There are a number of reasons for giving frequent brief breaks during a training program:

1. Resting the Brain. Brain studies have found that the brain becomes saturated with information after about fifty minutes. It needs time to absorb and process the new learning in order to make room for new learning. To state this in more colloquial terms, “the mind can absorb only what the rear can endure.”

When people sit for long periods of time, their breathing tends to slow down, which decreases their intake of oxygen. That is why participants start to get drowsy, and when they are drowsy, it is difficult for them to learn.

2. Increasing Oxygen in the Brain. The more oxygen in the brain, the easier it is for the brain to function. When participants stand up and move, they start to breathe more deeply. As a result, more oxygen enters their blood stream and is pumped to the brain.

That is why energizers are so effective, because they typically involve physical activities that get the participants’ blood flowing. This brings more oxygen to the brain and builds their energy.

3. Creating More Fertile Learning Opportunities. The greatest amount of learning occurs at the very beginning and the very end of each training segment. (A “training segment” is whatever time is necessary for the participants to learn what is being taught). Each break in the training creates a natural ending and also creates a new beginning. The greater the number of breaks, the greater the number of endings and beginnings that offer ripe opportunities for learning.

4. Providing Time to Address Personal Needs. When participants know that they will have breaks every fifty minutes or so, they can relax. They won’t have to worry about when they will be able to get to the rest room, grab something to drink, have a cigarette, or make a quick phone call to check in at home or at the office. No longer distracted by these concerns, they can pay better attention in the classroom.

5. Meeting Learning Style Needs. There are some (kinesthetic) learners who have great difficulty sitting for any period of time. For ideal learning, these kinesthetic learners need to be physically engaged. Since many training programs do not incorporate physical movement into the learning activities, the breaks may be the only time that these learners get a chance to stand up and move around.

6. Accommodating Physical Needs. Other participants may have difficulty sitting for long periods of time for a number of reasons, such as the chairs are uncomfortable or their joints tend to stiffen up. In these cases, more frequent breaks are a courteous gesture that offers welcome relief.

Frequent breaks during a training program increase the participants’ likelihood of successful learning because they are more alert, more focused, and more comfortable. Frequent breaks also create more beginnings and endings, increasing training time when learning is most likely to occur.

May your learning be sweet.


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