You are always learning, consciously and unconsciously. But do you ever think about how you learn?

Most people don’t. Most people focus on the content they want to learn. Unfortunately, this approach will typically fail. Learning requires engagement and action, otherwise . . . you forget.

Did you know there is a four-stage cycle the brain goes through to create a permanent memory?

Today, we know more about learning and how the brain works. Applying that knowledge can make learning experiences more effective and efficient.

The Learning Cycle model we are exploring was developed by Dr. James Zull, Professor of Biology and of Biochemistry, and Director of The University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education (UCITE) at Case Western Reserve University.

Each stage of the cycle is associated with a different region of the brain. Luckily, you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to benefit.

The first step of the cycle relates to the process of gathering information or experience.



1. Gathering information or experiences

2. Reflection/observation

3. Creation of new concepts

4. Active testing


The gathering of information is just the first step in the learning cycle. But we’re not talking about passive absorption here.

We gather information and experience through all our senses (sight, hearing etc.,). That’s right, learning is physical! As you interact with information, that sensory information/experience enters the sensory cortices of the brain where it is then processed by a complex network of neurons, protein, and electric impulses.


However, you may have noticed that your brain tends to forget or ignore information it doesn’t think is useful or important. Your brain is actually designed to filter all incoming information to avoid overload; therefore, only certain information gets through and is “encoded.”

Yet, when developing training programs, the focus often rests on the quantity of the content alone: what we want to teach, and not how people learn. There’s often a misconception that more is better (i.e., more for your money). But more does not necessarily lead to a better ROI. Instead, traditional training programs often fail to transfer knowledge.

Remember that teacher who knew so much about his or her subject and bombarded you with more information than you could process? Do you remember anything from that class?


There is a lot you can do to make gathering information easy and more effective. Such as:

Make it more engaging
Adjust the rate at which it is delivered
Sequence it in different patterns
Chunk it up with different visuals, sounds, even colour patterns
But to make training really last you need to appreciate and embrace the other steps in the learning cycle. And that’s often the problem with traditional learning: it starts and stops with information. Leaving out the rest of the learning cycle is like leaving your brain stranded, it doesn’t have what it needs to create a permanent memory.

Think about it, how many talent development programs have you tried that have had disappointing results in behavior or performance?

Instead, think of information gathering as the raw material the rest of the learning stages use to build upon and create a permanent memory.

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