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5 Ways to Improve Learning Retention in Training

😍 Do you want to increase your learners’ performance in the long-term?

By incorporating desirable difficulty into your solutions you may achieve this.

(Brookman-Byrne, 2018).

We have always focused on making our learning solutions simple. Our role as a learning designer is to simplify the complex, right? So, how does incorporating difficulty into your solutions improve them? The results were intriguing and enabled us to see things in a different light. More importantly it enabled us to improve our practice. Shoutout to our industry friend Nate (what a legend) for introducing us to this concept.

So, what is desirable difficulty?

(Wong, n.d.).

We seek to eliminate difficulties in learning to our own detriment (Bye, 2011). We think that by keeping our solutions simple, we will speed up the learning process. This may be true but by incorporating desirable difficulty it:

  • improves long-term retention
  • aids the transfer of knowledge in different situations.
(Bjork, 2012).

We are all about results, right? We want to meet our goal and continue to meet it into the future, so this sounds pretty beneficial.

Incorporating desirable difficulty can seem unintuitive as it may make learning longer and challenging. However, the results of long-term performance make it worthwhile (Bjork, 2012).

So, how difficult do you make your learning solution to reap the long-term benefits? Robert Bjork (2012) says to:

  1. Identify the concepts/actions that are crucial for your learners to retain in their long-term memory.
  2. Ensure that those concepts/actions are trained using desirable difficulties.
Here is how to incorporate desirable difficulty into your learning solutions.

1. Incorporate quizzes

Whilst reading information may be easier than answering quiz questions, it does not encourage the learner to think more deeply about the information that they are consuming (Persellin & Daniels, 2014).

✍🏽 Practical actions:

  1. Create scenario quiz questions that reflect your learners’ environment. This enables them to figure out how what they have learnt applies to their context.
  2. Check out our Writing Effective Scenario Questions Guide to discover how to do this (Belvista Studios, 2020).
2. Be comfortable with initial learner confusion

When a concept or action required by your learner is difficult, be comfortable with any initial confusion. Give them time to work through their confusion and come up with the solution themselves. This allows deeper learning to take place (Persellin & Daniels, 2014).

✍🏽 Practical actions:

  1. If a learner asks you for the answer, respond by saying, “Take some time to think about it and come back to me when you have a solution.”
3. Use multiple types of retrieval practice

Scientific studies show that varying learning conditions makes learning more challenging but results in improved long-term retention (Johny, 2020).

✍🏽 Practical actions:

  1. Create a mix of retrieval practice activities. For example, multiple choice questions, drag and drop questions, scenario questions, branching scenario questions, role plays and simulations (Johny, 2020).
  2. Enable the learner to practice in different contexts (Johny, 2020). To do this think about the situations that your learner will face relevant to the action you are training. For example, in a meeting, in the office or in a company vehicle. This prepares them for more situations that may take place in the real world.
4. Space out the learning

Rather than having your learner learn everything in one go, space out repeated study opportunities (Bjork, 2015). This builds new avenues that support activation and access to that knowledge in the future (Duran, 2020).

✍🏽 Practical actions:

  1. Create bite-sized learning that enables your learners to practice their skills over a period of time.
5. Create complex learning objectives

For the learning objectives that are crucial for your learners to remember into the future, make them more complex. For example, get them to produce their own version of the learning rather than just memorise it.

✍🏽 Practical actions:

  1. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956) to write your learning objectives. Aiming to use language from the top of the pyramid enables deeper learning from your solution. The very top of the pyramid requires learners to ‘produce new or original work’ related to what they are learning. This results in a better application of the learning than just remembering (the bottom of the pyramid). For example, rather than getting your learner to remember the core parts of a performance conversation, have them write out their own performance conversation script using what they have learnt.
That is it for this blog on ‘5 Ways to Improve Learning Retention in Training’. We hope that you gained value from it and are able to apply the concepts to your own learning solutions.

Comment below how you plan to incorporate desirable difficulty into your next project.

If you liked this blog, you will love our creator hub. There are heaps of resources for instructional designers and learning and development practitioners that you will find valuable, including many resources that help you achieve the strategies in this blog.





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Bloom, B. S. (1956). "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain." New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Belvista Studios. (2020). Writing Effective Scenario Questions Guide. Retrieved from

Bjork, R. [gocognitive]. (2012, July 13). robert bjork - desirable difficulties: slowing down learning [Video file]. Retrieved from

Bjork, R. []. (2015, October 28). Using Desirable Difficulties to Enhance Learning, Dr. Robert Bjork [Video file]. Retrieved from

Brookman-Byrne, A. (2018). Desirable difficulties in learning. Retrieved from

Bye, J. (2011). We often seek to eliminate difficulties in learning, to our own detriment. Retrieved from

Duran, J. (2020). Desirable Difficulties: If at First You Don’t Succeed…You May Have Learned More than You Thought. Retrieved from

Johny, K. (2020). How to make use of Desirable Difficulties to boost your learning? Retrieved from,learning..%20Another%20example%20of%20a%20desirable...%20More%20.

Persellin, D. C., & Daniels, M.B. (2014). A Concise Guide to Improving Student Learning: Six Evidence-Based Principles and How to Apply Them. Retrieved from


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