February 22

Make Learning Stick

Summer is one of the more dichotomous occasions in education.

On one hand, we’re completely spent, desperate to drink a cup of temperature-appropriate coffee and for freedom to have an unscheduled bathroom break. On the other, we’re filled with the promise and possibilities of next year, eager to explore new strategies and resources.

Enter summer Professional Learning. 

Even amid summer break, conferences can be exhilarating, abuzz with like-minded and inspirational educators connecting, creating and collaborating, gaining access and insight to a variety of ideas, practices, theories, lenses and models. 

Moreover, conferences meet our need for agency as we choose the content, presenter and style/format to best meet our interests and preferences. Pouring through the session listings, we enthusiastically schedule our days.


we get pumped. 

Insatiable for information, voraciously burning through #hashtags and blog posts, we bookmark sites and load up our Amazon carts. We fire off texts to ALL our friends and colleagues, activate trial accounts and boldly profess ourselves CHANGED

We become insta-experts. 

The next day, we’re at it again, repeating the cycle. 

Only, there’s a slight difference: the tiniest tinge of confusion

Was that AR or VR?


Flexible learning or sensory seating?

Brain fog slowly rolls in. 

By the end of day three, we barely remember our school mascot and cannot recall which of the fleet of white SUVs parked in the conference center is our chariot home.  

Brain fatigue is real, y’all. 

And,exhilarating as they may be, conferences can be downright exhausting.

So here’s the kicker: how much of the *life-changing* information do we remember post-conference? Research says: not much, folks. 

Without purposeful reflection, our brains can’t retrieve the information we’ve just taken in. 



First, let’s look at the history of the Forgetting Curve. In the late 19th century, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus tested his memory over various periods of time. Once he’d gathered all the data from his spaced learning studies, he plotted it on a graph that looked a little something like this:

The graph illustrates the exponential rate at which we forget things from the point at which we learned them. You lose most of it in the first couple of days, after which the rate of loss tapers off.

No worries; all is not lost. Ebbinghaus climbed up the slide to identify the factors that contribute to memory loss. He found our levels of retention depend on a couple of things.


People recall “stronger” memories for a longer period than weaker ones. When an impactful emotion — good or bad — is associated with learning, it generates a certain stickiness. We remember things better. Furthermore, adding our own cognitive experiences and associations through reflection enhances the “stick factor.” Moreover, visuals (photo, video or sketchnotes) and audio (recording thoughts, even songs) can solidify and stimulate associated memory.


Learners forget an average of 90% percent of the information taken in within the first month. The longer we delay application, the less learning we’ll have to apply. Simply put, if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.

If we plan to learn, we must create a plan to remember.

When I’m learning something, I often wish I had a magic remote to capture the experience. I envision grabbing every element so I can revisit the information, rewind and replay the scenarios, record and repeat the conversations. Try as I might, relying solely on typed documents or handwritten notes, I never replicate the experience

Enter digital portfolios.

Leveraging the workflow and robust multimedia features of a digital portfolio, I can capture information with a multi-modal mindset and more fully engage with my learning experiences. 

It’s important to not limit ourselves to viewing digital portfolios as an online notebook or an online location to house static snippets can easily stagnate. To ensure growth and longevity, we’ve got to reflect, actively goal-set and share. 

Reflection is one of the most effective ways to consolidate learning as we revisit, practice and experience the concepts and information we’ve been presented. Circulation is a similarly necessary element in two equally valuable ways:

  1. Continually churning the information to keep it fresh by adding, considering and stirring yet again.
  2. Openly contributing to professional learning networks (PLNs) to extend the circle of learning, gleaning reactions, advice, perspective and support.

My go-to game plan is pretty straightforward:

  • Create my schedule of must-see sessions.
    • Use the conference app, of course, to star sessions. I include any that I find interesting just in case a session is full and I need a back up.
    • LEVEL UP TIP: I map to my phone calendar to force reminders; be sure to account for any time zone differential.
  • Create a digital portfolio of learning.
    • Start with a collection for the conference. 
    • Add holding pages for the sessions identified.
      • I find adding the session description to be helpful.
      • Often handouts are added within the conference app; if available, I like to download them ahead of time and add to the session page.
    • Be ready— presenters waste no time in getting to the good stuff. Preparation is key.
  • Add new connections via social media.
    • Keep the learning going #PLN.
    • Post key takeaways from sessions to social media, tagging presenters and using the conference hashtag.
    • LEVEL UP TIP: Check Twitter for posts about that session AFTER the session. Chances are others snapped a photo or are tagging a resource that you’ll find helpful.
  • Revisit notes daily to reflect on major takeaways, key contacts.
    • This is critically important for multi-day conferences.
  • Draft a next-steps plan to implement/experience learning.
    • “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat each day.


conference, conference game plan, digital portfolio, future ready coach, multimodal, professional learning, reflection

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