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How to Get Students to Retain Learning Concepts

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Getting students to retain learning concepts is a huge pain point for professors in 2023. No matter how hard professors teach, and no matter how hard students study, there is always going to be a gap between what is learned and what is forgotten. Some lessons don’t always take root on the first try. Fortunately, education has evolved tremendously over the centuries and in recent decades our study of education has helped to discover ways to improve learning retention. 

In this article, we will explore why students forget and provide some strategies based on modern education theory that have allowed information retention to be improved.


"By putting key theoretical concepts into practice, participants are better able to retain the learnings than through traditional learning methods" - StratX Simulations


Why Do Students Forget?

Our brains are wired to forget, it’s in our human coding. 

In The Persistence and Transience of Memory, neurobiologists Blake Richard and Paul Frankland explain that forgetting is a purposeful process that helps our brains to optimize decision-making. This optimization process is our brain’s way of choosing which information will aid our survival, and which will not, seemingly a primordial mechanism from our days as hunters and foragers. 

This finding has encouraged researchers to look deeper into how the brain takes in new information and what it does with it. Armed with this knowledge, it’s easier to develop strategies to hack our cerebral hard-wiring. The important thing to remember moving forward is that students forgetting what you teach them is not a failure of their memory, but a sign that their brain doesn’t deem it to be critical information. Through the following strategies, we can somewhat trick the brain to change its mind on that…

Information Consolidation Techniques

Things that we ‘learn’ that are not used, refreshed, or challenged, are more likely to be forgotten. If we do not consolidate our studies with follow-ups or repetition, we may be doomed to lose the information. Here are some ways that professors can help their students to remember what they are learning:

  • Peer-to-peer explanations: Professors can invite their students to explain what they have learned, giving an opportunity for them to reactivate their knowledge, strengthen it in their minds, and increase overall retention

  • Regular practice tests: Instead of reviewing material over and over, frequent testing gives aid to long-term information retention and helps students to manage their exam performance. Many students panic in exam situations because they are not well versed in the setup, which impairs their memory recall and may convince them that they are not effective at retaining learning concepts. Tests do not need to be graded, but they do need to go through the core study material on a frequent basis
  • Spacing: Teachers may want to consider introducing recaps of material studied weeks or even months ago, giving students the chance to review their learnings in a casual way. This same methodology applies to homework - why not give homework based on a topic taught a month ago? That will show if they really learned it and will work the brain to not forget it

Experiential Learning Through Business Simulations

Business simulations are gamified experiential learning activities that place students in certain business roles that teach them about key industry concepts, business functions, how departments work together, and more. Every role in a business simulation is important to its overall success, and through the running of a virtual company, virtual product launch, or another simulation scenario, students will be offered a mixture of passive and active learning opportunities.

Our research has found that students learn better when they are challenged and motivated, which is why the simulations are so conducive to learning retention. Participants are invited to receive and digest information, make informed choices, and reflect on the impacts of their decisions, much like most board and video games. When simulations are fun, competitive, and gamified in nature, these elements combine to make a somewhat unforgettable experiential learning activity. 

Simulation Repetition is Key

Simulations and their learning objectives are best retained when the exercise is repeated many times. Science suggests that learners retain about 5% of what they hear, but around 50% of what they gain through interaction and experience. Experience is sticky, heard concepts are slippery. 

The repetition of business simulations enables the learnings to get embedded deeper in the human memory, perhaps, as we explained in the introduction, by tricking the brain into seeing the information as being key to survival. At least in the modern day, when survival is assured by maintaining a good shelter and keeping on top of your bills, remembering what you’ve learned in a business simulation could prove incredible useful!

"Since students take on management roles in a fictitious company, they need to make strategic decisions to grow their business, applying theoretical business concepts in a practical way. Since they see the outcomes of their decisions, they are able to retain learning more effectively than just through theory alone” - StratX Simulations


Multi-Visual Memory Strategies

One of the most proven and effective methods to get students to retain learning concepts is by applying a creative mixture of text, video, images, sound, humor, podcasts, and more. 

One of the most simple forms of visual learning is the flashcard. A picture and a word combined, or a picture on one side and a word on the other. The humble flashcard has been effective for decades, as the combination of two forms of the same information helps our brains to remember information. 

A list of countries is hard to remember, but when formatted into a map, it’s much more memorable. Telling someone the weather forecast for tomorrow is far less effective than them watching a weather forecast on television, thanks to the audio-visual representations, color codes, keys, and symbols to aid information retention.

Professors, keep this in mind when building course materials: learning concepts are retained better when the information is presented in multiple visual formats. Percentages listed in bullet points could be a pie chart. A business deal could be represented as a flowchart. An old video clip full of wisdom could be more valuable than simply sharing a classic quote. 

Verdict: Utilize All of These Strategies for Success!

Naturally, there are thousands of different subjects being taught and learned in educational settings around the world, so while one strategy might be effective for you, another might not. A multi-faceted approach is recommended, especially one that offers simulated experiences to test the knowledge being learned in safe environments.


Take the first step in creating memorable learning experiences for your learners. Get a free demo of one of our simulations today. 

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