10 Skills Development Strategies for Retaining Knowledge

By:   |   Comments (5)   |   Related: More > Professional Development Skills Development


Keeping your skills fresh and marketable, especially in the IT world, is a never-ending job. Technologists need to continually invest time and energy in skills development, particularly as new technologies and versions are released and embraced. Information retention poses as a problem, however, as many studies have shown that up to 99% of information isn't retained 30 days later. What are some easy-to-implement strategies to ensure you retain what you're learning?


Here are some quick suggestions to help you retain knowledge:

  1. Understand how you learn best.

    Before you start training, seek to understand your optimal learning style and environment, and ensure you're factoring that into your Learning Plan. Also, keep in mind that people process and retain information differently. There are visual learners, linguistic learners, auditory learners and hands-on learners. Most people, myself included, learn best and thoroughly retain information when I combine more than one of these types of learning i.e. when listening to a presentation, I will also take notes and sometimes, depending on the situation, I will read those notes out loud.

  2. Flush out a Learning Plan and prioritize.

    As with most things in life, if you have a plan of how you'll go about accomplishing a task, you're more likely to succeed. A helpful first step is understanding key trends in the market i.e. what technologies/versions were recently released that relate to your job? What skills would increase your marketability?, target skills i.e. what skills do you want to build or hone?, and target outcomes. Then prioritize those areas that you want to focus on. Ideally you want to build out a Learning/Skills Development Plan for your top 1-4 target areas.

  3. Word and Imagery Association.

    Visualizing things can help trigger your memory, so if you can find a way to either create a new image or associate it with existing, meaningful information in your knowledge base, it will help increase recollection, and therefore, retention.

  4. Focus on "Bite-Size Learning."

    Too often, we overwhelm our minds with too much information at once. Instead of 6 hours in one sitting, block off 1 hour a day for 6 days. You're much more likely to retain information if you take it in smaller doses and allow your brain time to process it. Here's a great article that expands on this topic – The Age of Bite-Sized Learning.

  5. Engage in Reflective Learning.

    Constantly be asking yourself "How can I immediately apply what I just learned?" If you can connect the dots on how to immediately apply the knowledge to your current job, it will increase retention and positively influence performance/deliverables.

  6. Put knowledge into application immediately.

    Whether it's engaging in skills-based volunteering or a pet project, find a way to utilize the skills/technology you just learned about.

  7. Disconnect from technology to maximize learning more about technology.

    It's surprising how much you might miss, or lose, if you're constantly checking email, social media, your phone, etc. while engaging in a learning opportunity. Studies have shown that even having your phone on you, even if it's on mute, can be a distraction. Make most of every learning opportunity by disconnecting from your technology!

  8. Get a study buddy.

    Study buddies - retention! Make training more fun and impactful by scheduling set study sessions! Not only is having a study partner enjoyable, it can be very beneficial because everyone has different learning styles and you'll likely be with someone that looks at information differently, thus allowing you to approach the information in a new way. You may also find that your strengths are your partner's weaknesses and vice versa.

  9. Revisit.

    One of our personal "learning strategies" is the following: write notes, type up notes a few days later, write a list of 'Action Items/Ideas' based on key 'Lessons Learned,' apply 2+ Ideas within 1 week, and revisit notes 30 days later. While that seems cumbersome, it's proven to be a very effective strategy for retention and when you revisit information it can also help trigger additional insight to provide instant value to your team/organization.

  10. Verbalize knowledge gained and transfer knowledge.

    After each training session, it's helpful to have a 'Reflection' and/or 'Lessons Learned' segment for 10-15+ minutes, where each person shares the main takeaways they had, along with 2+ action items or ways they'll put that knowledge to use. Also, one of the most impactful ways you can process the information you're learning is to teach it to someone else.

Additional key points:

  • It's helpful to keep in mind the 70:20:10 training rule. About 70% of your learning should be on the job, 20% informal (i.e. identifying a mentor) and 10% formal (i.e. courses, user groups, conferences, etc…).
  • As we stressed above, taking notes is always encouraged and beneficial.
  • Another point to stress is to not forget to invest time in "strength maintenance," where you're also focused on keeping up with your current strengths. It's helpful to map out your current key competencies and invest time, at least monthly, to ensure those stay strong!
Next Steps

Always keep in mind that optimal retention and application of knowledge requires a strategy! Take the following into account:

  • Spend a few minutes thinking through your learning style and optimal learning environment. For example, I learn best while in a coffee shop, at an in-person meeting with my cell phone off, or on the treadmill or elliptical. Also, I take notes and revisit them 1 month later.
  • If at first you don't retain, revisit, review & relate! Retention + application of knowledge takes time and strategy.
  • Constant reflection and application is key! Review lessons learned and how you can immediately apply to job to make most of learning!
About the author
Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

sql server categories

sql server webinars

subscribe to mssqltips

sql server tutorials

sql server white papers

next tip

About the author
MSSQLTips author Cate Murray Cate Murray is responsible for managing the nationally-based talent acquisition strategies of the Apex Systems PMO and Business Analysis Practice and holds her PMP certification from PMI.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

View all my tips

Comments For This Article

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - 8:55:03 AM - Cate Murray Back To Top (38870)

Great information, Gary!  Thank you for sharing! 

Monday, October 12, 2015 - 9:05:56 PM - Gary Back To Top (38868)

I need to correct a typo in my comment...it is "spaced repitition learning" not "space".

Monday, October 12, 2015 - 5:51:50 PM - Erica Woods Back To Top (38865)

Thank you for sharing that additional suggestion, Gary!  We'll scope that out! 

Saturday, October 10, 2015 - 1:33:23 AM - Avinash Reddy M Back To Top (38855)



Very useful tip




Friday, October 9, 2015 - 2:23:57 PM - Gary Back To Top (38852)

I'd like to share an additional apporach and tool that I've been experimenting with. In short, the approach and tool are intended to move information from your short-term memory to long-term memory.

The approach is called "space repitition learning" (aka SRL). The tool (free open source) is Anki (Ankisrs.net) or there are others (e.g. SuperMemo). The research on SRL (originated in Germay in the 1890s) has been validated (see Ankisrs.net and Google for details) to support learning and long-term memory retention.

The modern version of SRL uses electronic flashcards (typical Q&A sides)with the added functionality of presenting them at spaced intervals. The tool calculates the interval based on your feedback. For difficult to remember flashcard answers, the tool will present those flashcards to you more frequently (the short-interval repitition). The easier to remember flashcards are presented again to you later (maybe weeks) (long-interval repitition). 

For example, the tool uses your feedback (easy or difficult to rememeber) to determine when to present the flashcard to you again. For example, the tool presents a flashcard on Day 1. Based on how easy or difficult it was to recall, it will present that flashcard again in the same session or 3, 15, 45 days later. 

One caveat, the Anki tool's GUI is confusing in the beginning. However, there is a growing user-community for support (Ankisrs.net).

get free sql tips
agree to terms