Creating Sticky Learning To Combat Our Illusion Of Knowing

Deadly dew

Much of what we take for gospel about how to learn is wasted effort.

Learning is grossly misunderstood. The most effective learning strategies are counterintuitive.

We believe that attending education and listening to a presenter leads to learning. Just give me the crib sheets, the list of tips, the high level takeaways and I have it. It’s easy and I don’t have to work for it.

So instead we fleece them. We give them what they want even though it doesn’t lead to job improvement.

Stinking Learning Thinking

Learning needs to be easy or they won’t attend, we say.

We can’t expect much from our attendees. They complain if we don’t give them the slides, handouts or exact tips on how to do something. And they complain when they have to do the work. They came to have someone else tell them what to do. They don’t want to learn from each other.

These are all the excuses we tell ourselves so that we don’t have to work at providing authentic learning opportunities.

For years, attendees have felt that they can just show up, sit down, passively listen and then they have the knowledge of the expert. They swear if they take notes or get the PPTs, they now have the knowledge.

In order to produce real business results from our education, we have to help attendees understand that learning is not by osmosis. Attendees are not blank slates that the presenter writes on with their spoken word.

We have to help our attendees understand that learning requires work. That they have bought into the illusion of knowing by sitting passively.

Here is the slide deck from my recent presentation on Creating Sticky Learning that discusses these illusions and five good evidence based strategies your education should adopt.

With hat tips to Make It Stick: The Science Of Successful Learning; 12 Brain Mind Learning Principles In Action: Developing Executive Functions Of The Brain; The Field Guide To The 6Ds: How To Use The Six Disciplines To Transform Learning Into Business Results; Scrap Learning: Your Programs Are Not As Good As You Think.

What tips do you have to help executives understand how to shift to learning strategies that help their customers compete? What type of education have you seen done to help attendees learn how to learn before attending education?

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  1. Great post, Jeff.

    I have been fortunate to work on many conferences where learning is the goal, but unfortunately, I can’t say “most” conferences have done so.

    One strategy that comes to mind in the corporate arena was to create total alignment between every general session and breakout. The general sessions provided an introduction to concepts. The breakout sessions were designed to go deeper and reinforce learning and application. We provided an energy infusion with longer breaks; the opportunity for learners to have control over their environment (some worked outside as an example); and humor/entertainment presentations that were strategically placed. We followed up with learning application when people returned to the job.

    The most important step was getting everyone that the purpose of the meeting was to change thinking and provide some new behaviors, but that didn’t ensure learning. The conference had to be extended back to the workplace.

    Today, I would have added on-line video and other learning tools to reinforce concepts and competencies.

    Unfortunately, it continues to be a challenge to move people from the idea that smile sheets represent learning.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks so much for reading and furthering discussion.

      I like your focus on creating total alignment between every general session and breakout. So few conference organziers get that and yet is has an amazing profound impact on the audience’s learning. And I love your statement “the conference has to be extended back to the workplace.” That’s really what it’s all about.

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