Ways To Make Learning Stick

To lead others through uncertainty amidst the waves of change calls for continual learning and the application of this learning. We may indeed be facing challenges we have never seen before, but humans have the capacity to keep on learning. It’s not just learning something, but making the learning “stick”. Two tangible ways to make learning stick is to engage more of our senses and involve others.  

Learning is sensory and social. We can’t just read it in a book. We can’t just try something and hope it works. We can’t just seek advice and not do something with it. 

The more senses you engage the more “sticky” the learning.

One of my new leadership challenges is schooling my daughter at home. Leading an 8 year old is quite different than leading another adult. My takeaway is the power of hands-on learning both for me as I lead and for her as she learns. She is learning: fractions via a sewing project, properties of  oceans and lakes by mixing beakers of saltwater and freshwater to see how they interact, observational skills by guessing different sounds she hears while blindfolded, and language by  fixing sentences with incorrect grammar. Fun and sticky learning!!

Somehow as we get older we default to passive methods such as books, speakers, and podcasts as our key learning tactics. They can be great springboards when accompanied with hands-on, sensory experience or involving others to bring learning to life. Combining knowledge and practice, that’s what makes learning stick. 

If you are training someone on a new thing >> think of ways you can engage all the senses through listening, watching, discussing, writing, experimenting. Too often we tell them what to do and expect it to stick. It just doesn’t and we are disappointed when they don’t “get it.”

Learning in social circles creates camaraderie and support in the learning process: training in groups, pairing people up to learn together, peer coaching, etc. Associating learning with camaraderie creates connection and a sensory learning environment. You can:

  • See the behavior modeled in others
  • Ask questions based on observations and insights
  • Get support to turn mistakes into a learning opportunity
  • Receive recognition and rewards to reinforce learning
  • Practice new ways of doing things and discuss the learnings
  • Engage discussions to make connections to adjacent related concepts and ideas 

The learning leader is one who seeks knowledge, reflects on experiences, pursues wisdom of others, and experiments by putting learning into practice. Then, they teach others to do the same!

Next Steps ….

What are you learning right now? How can you engage more of your senses or connect with others to enhance the learning and make it sticky?

I am doing a new thing by launching a podcast with practical resources for busy leaders. Learning new things demands new actions and new habits to reinforce them. That’s why my co-host and I have developed “The Busy Leader’s Guide to Sticky Habits.” And I want to share that with you today for free. Just click the link to download your guide and get your learning and habits to stick!


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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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