Learn and Retain by Doing
One of the most proficient learners I have ever met during my
college education is a student within the information systems
program at my university. For those of you, like me, who
don’t speak this language let me just explain that information
systems is a combination of a tangible technology program, a
web design and development program, an SEO program, and
a database support program.
That’s right – a computer nerd. One of those people who got all excited when Google announced their
So why would this kid who spent all his time surfing the web and having “tech days” with his buddies be
more proficient at learning than a student who was memorizing anatomy terms or one who was writing
research papers or one who was faithfully attending lectures every single week? The difference lies not
in the material studied, but in the manner of study.
It’s been common knowledge for the past fifty years that students retain only 5% of the information
they hear in lecture, 10% of the information they read, and only 30% of what they view in a
demonstration. Yet, this grouping of reading, attending lecture, and viewing demonstrations is a
common structure used for educational purposes.
I must note here that this article is not designed to critic our current system of education in the US and
send out a cry for education reform. Instead, I wish to emphasize that although we cannot automatically
fix all the problems within the American educational system, we can fix our own, personal educational
How many students enter a class with the paradigm that they are going to absolutely master the subject
material? This number is most likely very limited in comparison to the number of students who enter a
class with the paradigm of memorizing all the information for the test so they can achieve an “A” at the
end of the semester.
Hands on Learning
My information system friend taught me that the power of learning is held within our own hands and
that this power, coupled with a correct understanding of the learning process, can produce dynamic
results. He was not just at a university to get a degree in National City – he was there for the purpose of
obtaining tangible skills and knowledge that would help him as he entered the workforce so he needed
to master the material that he studied.
Research has proven that the way to retain 90% of what we
learn is to either teach or immediately use the recently
acquired information. Doing so allows us to not only repeat
the information, but to learn from mistakes that we make, to
view the information from another lens, and to answer
questions that clarify our own questions.
Going back to the example of my information systems friend, I want to share some information
regarding his learning habits. Every Saturday my friend had a “tech day” with a buddy and they taught
each other something web-related that they had learned that week.
My friend also would watch youtube videos to understand a skill he was learning and then immediately
practice what those videos had demonstrated. For all group projects, my friend was the “tech guy” so he
was continually using these newly acquired skills for projects and homework assignments.
He worked in the university career center with a database that required his knowledge of information
systems. And let’s not forget how he helped explain tech concepts to other students who were not as
tech-savvy as himself.
Relevant to Any Subject
The types of activities in which my friend engaged are not just limited to computer nerds – they are
relevant for any subject. University professors often encourage students to form study groups so they
can teach each other the material and more fully retain it themselves.
So what is the lesson to take away from this discussion? Whether you are in a web design and
development program or an English literature program, you can follow the same steps to be a successful
student and master your area of interest.
Photo Credit: E-infopages, Collegecultures