Here's a quiz: Three days after a training session, how much of the information will a typical attendee have retained?

Take a guess.

50 percent? Lower.

30 percent? Still too high.

The answer is 10 percent.

Amazing isn't it? It's as though insidious invaders have entered the heads of regular folks and inhibited their ability to remember information.

Even with skilled trainers presenting relevant information to receptive, intelligent people, retention is likely to be disappointing. On top of that, even fewer people actually change their behavior as a result of what they learn.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. According to Marge Anderson, an education program manager with the Energy Center of Wisconsin in Madison, a few adjustments can mean the difference between a 10 percent retention rate and one of 40 percent or 50 percent.

Anderson's thinking is based on the work of Howard Gardner, a Harvard University educator whose work is changing the way people view intelligence and learning. In his 1993 book Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice, Gardner identified eight different forms of human intelligence. People, he argues, are not all smart in the same way, nor do they all learn in the same way. And when you give an audience experiences that tap into more than one intelligence, retention improves.

Looking at Gardner's eight intelligences, Anderson translates each into advice that planners can use. Here are her suggestions to improve retention at educational events.

  1. Verbal/linguistic intelligence is language, listening, reading, speaking, writing. “We all have this in our meetings,” Anderson says. “We have a heavy emphasis on linguistic intelligence, such as PowerPoint slides, talking, oral presentations.”

    Anderson's advice: Drastically reduce the amount of time your presenters spend lecturing or giving PowerPoint presentations. Strive to make your audience active training participants.

  2. Logical/mathematical intelligence is problem-solving — learning things sequentially and in steps.

    Anderson's advice: Include a problem-solving activity at your meetings, something that involves analyzing, estimating, experimenting, reasoning. (Make sure to include written and verbal instructions.)

  3. Musical intelligence is learning through music — singing, keeping time, composing, or appreciating music. “There are all kinds of things I learned in the third grade that I sang, and I can't remove them from my mental hard drive,” Anderson says. “Musical intelligence has a strong connection to emotion, and emotion increases retention when you're learning.”

    Anderson's advice: Use a theme song throughout a meeting for people to connect to. Use music to develop an environment in a room. She likes to use swing music because nearly everyone can identify with it and enjoy it.

  4. Visual/spatial intelligence is seeing images and pictures. It involves designing graphics, decorating, reading maps, sculpting, and drawing. “Younger folks deal well with visual media,” Anderson says. Remember this when considering your audience: The first wave of MTV viewers is now in their late 30s!

    Anderson's advice: Use pictures, diagrams, and icons. Also, create mental pictures for people through the use of stories. Mental images help people retain information.

  5. Kinesthetic intelligence entails two things: the physical self, the things that your body can do; and the emotional self, risks that you can take or connections you can make with other people. “Kinesthetic intelligence is a very powerful way of cementing whatever it is that you're trying to achieve — if you can make an emotional connection and involve the whole body,” Anderson says.

    Anderson's advice: Kinesthetic activities don't have to be “super physical,” she says. “They can be stretching exercises or quiet movement. Participating in service projects to break up the sessions is a great idea. It makes the location more real for attendees. Attendees share an experience with people they're working with.”

  6. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to teach others, lead groups, empathize, resolve conflicts. “Meetings are getting more interactive, people learning from each other, and that's great,” Anderson says.

    Anderson's advice: Include icebreakers at the beginning or the end of a speaker to raise the energy level.

  7. Introspective intelligence is learning from within. It is achieved by searching your self, Anderson says. An example is journaling. “Give people time off so they can absorb things. So often when we get together for our meetings, we cram every minute with activity.”

    Anderson's advice: Build in opportunities for people to process the information they've received. Begin a day with quiet time, for example, or include activities where participants write their responses and share them with the group later.

  8. Natural intelligence is your connection to the natural world. Anderson points to research showing that natural light helps the brain retain information: Studies in California and North Carolina demonstrated that schoolchildren learned more when in rooms bathed with natural light.

    Anderson's advice: Use spaces that have a lot of natural light, and give attendees frequent breaks to be exposed to sunlight for mental recharging.

Build on Intelligences

When you're designing your meetings, think about your group and its collective strengths and weaknesses. Is your group made up of engineers who are strong on logic but weak on introspective intelligence? Maybe it's time to stretch them by offering an opportunity to journal.

Remember, when you give people experiences that tap into more than one form of intelligence, it increases their retention. A group that builds a playground together, for example, needs to call on logical, kinesthetic, and interpersonal intelligence, Anderson says. Regardless of how the playground looks when it's finished, participants are unlikely to forget the lessons they learned in building it.

Training with a Beat

Author Lenn Millbower makes a case for integrating music into the learning process. Music, he argues, establishes a positive learning environment, aids memorization, and changes energy levels, among other benefits. Here are some excerpts:


“Background music during learning discussions and solo reflection activities can be especially helpful. … [It] creates a sense of privacy for small group discussion, making conversations more satisfying and your learners more likely to say what they feel; enters into memory and aids recall; [and] masks ambient noise from other groups. … The steady tones and tempos of Baroque music make it ideal for this purpose.”


“Music can change the dynamic of your learning environment at appropriate moments, encouraging people to move about, relax, calm down, or get excited, depending on the needs of your session. … After intense concentration, play faster music in a major key to encourage better moods. After heated discussion, play slow, minor-key music with low-rhythmic activity to calm your learners down. After a depressing, worrisome discussion, play major-key music with high-rhythmic activity and short, quick notes to create a ‘happy’ mood.”


“Providing pleasant emotional content [music] to your learners will establish a link between you, your classroom, and the learners' pleasure. … Learners who walk into your classroom and immediately feel comfortable … will be engaged to learn.”

Printed with permission of Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Va., (800) 232-0223, For more about the author, visit