How to Make Sure Your Learning ‘Sticks’


Making an impact is hard.

In an age of information and digitization, corporate learning often prioritizes enjoyable, gamified experiences over tangible learning. And talent management professionals may take siloed approaches to introduce different vendors, content, and learning tools to learners. Buzzwords like “self-paced” and “open-access” tend to surround these learning initiatives.

While all of this may sound catchy and exciting, in reality, meaningful learning doesn’t occur when our brains are flooded with information that doesn’t fit together. This is why L&D teams need to start designing for a concept known as coherence.

The neuroscience of coherence

Coherence refers to a system of ideas that fit together in a way that allows each concept to reinforce and build on other related concepts. From the brain’s perspective, this form of learning design allows learners to integrate and retain new ideas much more simply.

Take, for example, a calculus curriculum that builds on concepts from simpler math. To grasp calculus, you don’t have to relearn algebra and geometry. You just have to integrate your prior knowledge of these subjects in new, meaningful ways.

This makes coherent learning significantly easier and longer-lasting because the schemas (or mental maps) born from prior knowledge are strengthened when they are integrated across new concepts. By contrast, when there is decoherence, concepts do not map to one another or to existing schemas, making it harder and more effortful to learn and retain new information.

What leads to decoherence?

NLI’s research on the science of learning points to three interrelated causes of decoherence:

  • An abundance of available learning content in the market
  • Biases in content selection, design, and delivery
  • Lack of a consistent, valid set of operating principles for talent management

Today, information is more readily accessible than ever before. This means that our brains have to integrate content from an abundance of sources, making learning that much more convoluted and ineffective.

On the other hand, content that is designed to maximize coherence leads to vastly more effective learning. When systems of ideas and information are coherent, related concepts link to one another, much like a well-connected highway system. Things just seem to make sense.

How to create content that actually sticks

Creating this harmony can be intentional. Using neuroscience, NLI has identified strategies to minimize decoherence and maximize the impact of corporate learning. For learning and development and HR professionals, this means:

  • Simplifying the content from a larger body of empirical research
  • Identifying patterns and connections and highlighting them for learners through design elements
  • Filtering content through a single or limited set of conceptual foundations to make it clearer
  • Reinforcing and strengthening content through practice
  • Assigning a responsible party to ensure coherence and oversee the broader learning landscape

With a purposeful focus on using neuroscience to create coherence for learners, leaders can make their learning stick and leave a meaningful impact within their organizations.

Author: Komal Gulati

Want to know more?