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3+1 Brain-based Retention Techniques You Should Implement in VILT

How much of your virtual instructor-led training (VILT) is retained by your learners? What are the strategies you use to ensure maximum knowledge retention and transfer?

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies have been compelled to move from a purely classroom-based framework to a virtual environment with virtual instructor-led training, online learning, or a mix of both.

However, moving to a virtual setting has its own drawbacks. For example:

  • Not all learners have the technical know-how to navigate a virtual environment and can find it difficult to meet their training goals
  • Learners in the virtual classroom tend to get easily distracted in the absence of a physical instructor (emails, notifications, social media)
  • Some learners may be intimidated by the virtual mode of training itself

Register for our webinar on converting classroom training to virtual instructor-led training (VILT).

If you notice, these directly impact how effectively learners are able to acquire knowledge, retain it, and then apply the learning to their job. Failing to address these problems could have a devastating effect on employee productivity, and, not to mention, lead to a colossal waste of training resources such as time and money.

This begs the question: How do you optimize your virtual learner’s knowledge retention? What can your virtual instructor do to move learning from the learner’s short-term memory to long-term?

In this blog, we will look at 3+1 brain-based retention techniques (based on the latest research in neuroscience) and how you can apply them to your virtual classroom to maximize learners’ knowledge retention.

How to Enhance Learners’ Knowledge Retention Capacity in VILT

1. Keep Virtual Training Sessions Short, and Space Them Out Evenly

 Without attention, there is no comprehension or memorization.

Let’s be honest. We just don’t seem to be able to focus anymore. It is not technology’s fault. It’s just how our brains are wired – designed to always seek new information. Tech tools just seem to make it worse. What this also means is that in a bid to amass as much information as possible, the brain tends to remember less and less of what it’s actually processing.

In other words, our primitive brains are sort of stuck in a high-tech world – resulting in us having limited attention spans, making it difficult to focus on any task for long.

The problem of short attention span in traditional classrooms (which tend to be lengthy) is usually easily dealt with. That’s because the instructor can see, in real time, how the learners are responding to the instruction, whether they are flagging off or losing interest.

This real time ‘feedback’ from visual cues allows the instructor to make dynamic adjustments to the instruction in terms of length and format, and make even lengthy training sessions more appealing and interesting.

However, when it comes to virtual training, learners can easily lose attention if the sessions are long and not engaging enough. And, as I mentioned earlier, the easy access to information from the Internet and social media makes it much more appealing than lengthy VILT sessions.

What can you do to prevent this from happening?

Bite-sized learning

Instead of cramming everything in one session, try to make your virtual training sessions short – no more than 20-30 minutes each. Shorter sessions are easy on the brain, cognitively speaking, and have more chances of being retained in the long-term memory. This approach is akin to the microlearning strategy that many L&D professionals swear by to keep online learners involved and engaged.

 Spaced learning

Implement spaced learning that alternates between focused learning periods and breaks, for longer periods of time. Research indicates that repeating the learning over multiple learning sessions helps establish the long-term memory of the information.

An Example of Spaced Learning

Have three intensive virtual instruction sessions which are separated by 5-minute periods of distractor activities not connected to the learning outcome.

Session One Includes VILT presentations supported by PPTs, videos, infographics, or case studies.

Break, distractor activities

Session Two Targets knowledge recall by way of simple assessments such as gamified quizzes.

Break, distractor activities

Session Three Involves learners applying what they learned about a particular problem or task.

The 5-minute breaks between the sessions essentially give the brain the much-needed time and (reflective) opportunities to store the information in memory.

 Note: The initial VILT sessions can be repeated numerous times—either over an increasing span of days, or even weeks. The number of these repetitions (we’ll call them “review sessions”) depends on the nature of the training content and time.

This method of recalling what was previously learned, adding to that information and applying it again, strengthens the brain’s function of moving information from the short-term to long-term memory. This approach can be used for product training and sales training, where information recall is the desired outcome.

2. Include Problem-based and Role-playing Activities to Prepare Learners for the Real World

Our brain learns naturally through problem solving, which is at the heart of brain-based learning. Our brains are built to change dramatically in response to experience and adapt to the environment its working in. This is where problem-based learning (PBL) and role-playing activities come into the picture.

Problem-based learning is a training strategy in which learners try to solve an unfamiliar problem (or a set of problems). It improves skills related to problem-solving and collaboration. 

Roleplaying is the act of assuming the role/characteristics of or performing the part of a character (real or fictional).

Common characteristics of role-playing and problem-based learning:

  • The focus is not on problem solving with a defined solution. Instead, learners learn about a concept through solving open-ended problems. 
  • Learners have full autonomy over how they would approach the problem, prototype the solutions, test and decide on the best solution for the problem at hand.
  • Learners are challenged to apply their knowledge to real-world problems, to critically reflect on problems to identify new solutions, and realize how correctly (or incorrectly) they have been trying to solve the problem all along.

For your virtual training, it is highly recommended that you use problem-based learning in combination with role-playing. A great way to do that is by using virtual breakout rooms where learners are split into small groups who can interact with fellow group members (and other groups, if allowed) via their microphones, and collaborate using the whiteboard, chat and application sharing. Breakout rooms offer opportunities for interaction and/or collaboration for learners and their instructors.

You can use breakout rooms to implement:

Group projects

Enable collaborative, peer learning through group projects to work on. Learners can be directed to assume different roles during and after the activity, such as discussion leader, observer, note taker, timekeeper, and spokesperson. Here, the group acts and works as a single unit:

  • Planning their learning strategy and communicating among group members
  • Offering mutual support
  • Drawing upon and exploiting the skills and capabilities of one another

Q&A sessions

Learners can be divided into groups with each group being given a different question to answer and asked to create a brief presentation to other groups with their responses.

Scenario or simulation practice

Have learners engaged in role-plays and simulations (practice interviews, simulating conversations between sales reps and customers, etc.). 

The social learning opportunities afforded by breakout rooms strengthen the learners’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they get to observe and work in close quarters with their seniors, peers, and colleagues. 

3. Use your VILT Platform’s Tools to Spice Up your Virtual Learning Session

Using a plain ‘lecture’ mode is a disaster for knowledge retention and application. Strengthen your virtual training strategy by using different styles of instruction, activities, and materials.

Make use of your platform’s whiteboard and drawing tools to allow learners to contribute to the session. Here learners can comment, annotate, and even make suggestions about how to improve the material.

Offer learning games and fun puzzles when evaluating learners between the sessions. Recognize and reward learners’ progress and accomplishments with points, rewards, and badges. Display the top performers on the platform/LMS to foster healthy competition among learners.

Use the built-in chat feature to facilitate discussions among the learners while the virtual classroom session is going on. Transcribe these chat sessions into PDF documents, infographics, or FAQs and offer them as performance support.

Conversely, you can even use certain segments of the lectures (how-to procedures, processes) and turn them into short videos or audio clippings and host them on the platform as job aids for performance support.

BONUS: Get Learners Excited Before the Training By Relaying ‘What’s In It For Them’

Now, motivation may not be directly related to improving knowledge retention. However, its effects on how a virtual learner approaches training in the first place cannot be doubted. Various brain research studies have proved over the years that for learning to occur efficiently, the learners need to be motivated, and need to know the main purpose of the training. In other words, the training must answer the question: ‘What’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM).

The ‘WIIFM’ is one of the lead motivators for any adult learning activity. When it comes to corporate training, it informs learners how the knowledge and skills acquired from the training will help them do their jobs better. Answering the WIIFM question tends to make learners more involved in the training, and compels them to put in extra effort to try and retain the information.

How do you communicate the ‘WIIFM’ to your VILT learners?

Here are some tips:

Send messages/emails welcoming your learners to the virtual training program. You could use a video message of the CEO or training manager communicating the benefits of the program, and how it will help both the learners and the organization improve business results.

Make the performance-based learning objectives of the training clear. These should be based on the knowledge and skills that learners are currently lacking to perform a job task (what is hindering their work performance and what is needed to close this performance gap).

To make this more engaging, you can use a short video trailer that demonstrates the learners’ skills pre-training and what can change post-training (instead of simply displaying a list of objectives).

Provide a context for the training. Before the training begins, provide a short summary of their previous learning for learners to connect it to the present training. It can be in the form of:

  • Microlearning modules
  • Short PDFs
  • Infographics
  • Videos/ whiteboard animations

Another way of refreshing their existing knowledge would be via a pre-training assessment hosted on the LMS or portal. These assessments identify the knowledge gaps in learners which can then be addressed.

Parting Thoughts

There you have it. These are the four brain-based retention techniques you can implement in your VILT sessions. Though these principles are neither a panacea nor a magic bullet that will solve all of your virtual training problems, they do hold the potential to tackle problems related to learner attention, engagement, and knowledge retention.

For more information on virtual instructor-led training, download our eBook.

Checklist Before Launching Your New VILT Program