Tips for retaining new skills

Tips for retaining new skills

1  Be in the moment

During training, leave your phone and other devices alone, said Andi Lonnen, founder and CEO of Finance Training Academy Ltd. in Leeds in the UK. Avoid other distractions as well, such as radio or television, added Bertram Opitz, professor in neuroimaging and cognitive neuroscience at the University of Surrey in the UK. “Any distraction causes interference between the to-be-learned information and irrelevant information,” he said.

2  Take steps to prepare your mind

Make sure your body and your mind are ready to learn and retain information. “A sleep deficit would reduce your ability to pay attention and consequently will impair your ability to memorise new information,” Opitz said. “But sleep is also an active process that in itself is beneficial for learning.” He said memory is consolidated, relevant information is extracted, and you are helped to form long-lasting memories during the hours that you sleep. 

3  Implement immediately

Identify some “quick wins” from training — one or more activities that can be implemented immediately, Lonnen said. In the cases where information not used immediately may be lost, implementing the things you’ve learned right away builds confidence and momentum to implement further, she said.

4  Refresh regularly

When Lonnen teaches a course, she follows up with email refreshers for four weeks. “This helps them remember the key points and start using the principles,” she said. If this isn’t an option from the course organiser, take it upon yourself to refresh your mind regularly after receiving training.

5  Work with a friend

Find a colleague who attended the training with you, or has been through the same training, and hold each other accountable for putting the learning into practice, Lonnen said. This will ensure you continue to use the skills you’ve learned.

6  Test yourself

Opitz said testing yourself on the information you’ve learned leads to better retention than restudying the information. “It has been shown that trying to retrieve the information you have learned once produces better memory than restudying the same material a couple of times,” he said.

— By Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at