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Gimme a Break!

Posted by Melissa Grey Satterfield on 10/19/09 3:52 AM
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During Langevin workshops, we take short, frequent breaks. We use a guideline of approximately 5 minutes every hour. Every so often, a client will approach me and ask why we take so many breaks. I have two responses to that question, the short version and the long one. 


In a nutshell, here is the short version: Based on years and years of research into the field of adult learning, we know that retention goes up when learners take short, frequent breaks.


Now for the long version:


Instructors need to present information in a way in which allows the brain to remember it. One way to do this is to “start and stop” often. People tend to remember incomplete or interrupted tasks more than completed ones – so said Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. She first studied this phenomenon back in 1927 in a restaurant in Vienna.


She noticed that waiters seemed to remember orders only as long as the order was in the process of being served. Once the waiter delivered the order to the customer, he/she forgot what was just served. Ziegarnik theorized that an incomplete task or unfinished business creates “psychic tension” within us. This tension acts as a motivator to drive us toward completing the task or seeking closure. When something is incomplete, we tend to continue to think about it. This ongoing thinking is what helps us keep important facts in mind.


So, what does all this mean for us, as trainers? If you wish to boost your learners’ memory and retention, give them short, frequent breaks! Even a quick energizer, brainteaser, or game (something unrelated to the content at hand) will make a big difference!


If you want to learn more about memory, retention, and the Principles of Adult Learning, attend our one-day workshop, How Adults Learn. You won’t forget it!



Melissa has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. She graduated from the University of Nevada where she studied broadcast communications. During her college years, Melissa worked as an on-air personality for several radio and TV stations in Las Vegas. She’s always been a bit of a performer, which is probably why training is such a good fit for her. Before coming to Langevin, she was a senior training specialist and course developer for an organization based in L.A. Melissa knows the challenges trainers face, as well as the rewards that come with improving job performance. Her training mantra is summed up best by something she learned during her very first Langevin workshop, “Never do for the learners what the learners can do for themselves.” When not in the classroom, Melissa loves travelling, relaxing at the beach, cooking, and hosting dinner parties.

Topics: instructor-led training, tips-for-trainers, learners

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