Made to Stick: Making your Training Content Memorable

In my last blog post, I talked about a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your eLearning is a Success. Well, working on a similar theme, what can you do ensure that your training content is memorable and that meet the objectives that you set out to achieve?

Return on Investment (ROI) is one of the first few topics that is discussed when the effectiveness of training is mentioned. And one of the most common complaints is that though learners are mostly enthusiastic when they return from a training program but tend to forget most of what they have learnt in a few days and gravitate back to their old habits.

Content development teams are often brainstorming ways to make content delivery more meaningful to their learners and often include various interactive elements into their module.

Well, as I was reading “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Dan Heath and Chip Heath, I felt that the ideas discussed by the authors to help certain ideas become what they called sticky would work just as well while creating training content. So how would you as a content or instructional designer incorporate the author’s SUCCESs model to create memorable content?

Just like the CEOs, advertising mavericks, school teachers and professors that the authors describe in their book, as a content writer you too have an idea to convey. But this simple sounding task is rarely easy – like the authors say, “it is hard to transform the way people think and act”. Yet, as a content writer that is exactly your goal, to help your audience gain new knowledge or learn a new skill and change the way they previously acted.

Let’s review the model and see if it fits the content creation paradigm:


The authors suggest that each idea be stripped down to one single most important CORE idea. I can already hear you protest, surely an entire training program cannot be made up of one simple concept, and after all we cannot afford to keep bringing participants back to training. I myself been guilty of adding a few extra slides into the module to ensure I didn’t miss something important. However, the idea here is to first ensure that you can figure out the CORE point you wish to convey. It is all about prioritization. The authors do warn us to not mistake simplicity for dumbing down (or idiot proofing as we called it my previous organization). They suggest using anchoring as a technique to help simplify the information, that is, using knowledge that learners already have and building on that prior knowledge. Using analogies from daily life that learners can identify with to communicate complex ideas is also an effective technic to simply your content.


The authors ask, “How do you capture people’s attention and then hold it?” Well, indeed how would you? Curious? Wish I’d just get on with and tell you already? Well! Ummm! No, it is not delay tactics but creating a sense of mystery, giving learners the sense that they are actively participating in uncovering the answer rather than just being told the answer. Imagine a “who done it” that starts by revealing the killer’s identify… Would not be as exciting as playing detective yourself and trying to decipher the clues is it?


The primary idea of making your content concrete is to avoid the use of abstract and technical language and instead focus on using sensory language or creating a vivid mental image of what you want your learners to remember. The authors use the sour grapes example from Aesop’s fables to drive home their point. I am sure most of us vividly remember these stories or at least the lesson it was trying to convey if not the actual details of the story itself; now that’s learning that lasts a lifetime.


In order for leaners to completely comprehend and accept any information, it must come from a credible source. This credibility can be built by using subject matter experts or the most commonly used credibility tool statistics. However, the authors warn us that human brain find statistics difficult to process and sometimes the magnitude of impact on a process could be lost in translation (numbers). Considering that statistics do have a powerful message to deliver it would be easier for your learner to comprehend and more importantly remember if these number are simplified.

“The trick with using statistics, then, is to focus on the relationship, not the number.”

Which of the following would you find easier to comprehend and remember?

  1. 85 percent of all workplace injuries and fatalities can be avoided
  2. 17 of 20 workplace injuries and fatalities can be avoided


Have you noticed how easily you forget simple routine things but remember trivia memories after years just as vividly as the day the event occurred? Emotions and stories touch us in some way and help to get your mind off autopilot, they make you stop and think, “wait a minute – this affect me or my life in some way”. The What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) factor is a powerful tool encourage learners to engage in and retain a lesson.


Stories, analogies and case studies are important tools used by content writer to create interest and involvement in the learning process. This idea is reiterated by the authors, their research found that people are natural attracted to stories, “Stories drive action through simulation (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it).” The fact that stories are powerful seems rather obvious however the author’s found two rather surprising facts; the first is that you don’t have to be a master storyteller to include stories into your content. Even simple or boring stories are likely to be remembered better than bullet points full of facts. The second surprise is that stories (the process of imagining) actually stimulate brain cells. According to the authors, “the right kind of story is, effectively, a simulation. Stories are like flight simulators for the brain”

Using these principles in your content creation is a bit like getting to simplicity on the other side of complexity. The principles and ideas are fairly simple to understand but not as easy to implement. So the next time you are creating content think about how you can illustrate the content, create a graphic, tell a story, or engage learners in a case study.

How many of these principles have you used while creating training content? How successful have you been? Share your thoughts and stories with us?

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