Registration for Inspire 2024 is now open!

Register now

Learning efficiency

Learning efficiency

Table of Contents

    We’re all constantly learning these days. From online courses to propel our professional development to tutorial videos on our new tech product.

    Whether you’re a learner or an educator, at some point you’ve probably wondered, are there ways to make learning more effective? 

    The short answer is yes—and this guide will tell you how. We’ll even do it from both perspectives, the instructors and the learners. Now that’s what we call a twofer.

    So, get ready to take your learning to the next level with:

    • The definition of learning efficiency
    • Our tips on how to make yourself a more effective learner 
    • Actionable advice  for learning and development professionals on how to increase the efficiency of learning programs 

    As the saying goes: “Less is more”. So follow our tricks and very soon you’ll be learning more in less time. 


    What is learning efficiency?

    Learning efficiency is a learning metric. It measures how much learners have improved in terms of their learning performance, accuracy, and learning speed in a given time. 

    So, how do we know when a learner’s efficiency has improved? When they can perform new skills or retrieve knowledge faster and more accurately as a result of going through a learning program. 

    Efficiency in learning is very important. Many companies spend a lot of time and money on professional development programs, so increasing learning efficiency means saving both. 

    When you create learning environments with efficiency in mind, you can ensure faster learning curves while increasing learner engagement and knowledge retention. When employees learn better, they also perform better.

    Now, let’s get right into the nitty-gritty of how you can become a more efficient learner.

    Six ways to become an efficient learner

    One thing you need to keep in mind is that learning efficiency (or effective learning) is a broad term that applies to various learning methods and techniques. 

    However, all the learning modes we’re mentioning here have one thing in common—they can make your learning more efficient. Some will grab your attention, while others will allow you to learn more in less time.  

    Don’t think that you have to implement every one of these. No one method stands above the rest. Instead, choose the methods you think will help you the most. Also, experimentation is your friend here—the best way to figure out your preferred learning mode is to try as many as possible.


    1. Utilize relational learning

    One of the best ways to learn, and we know this from cognitive learning theories, is to relate new information to what you already know. 

    This is a great learning strategy when you’re involved in a longer training program. You can make connections with the parts of the training you’ve already covered. Making these correlations will help you retain knowledge better.

    For instance, if you’re learning a foreign language, you can relate new words or new grammatical structures to the ones you already know from your native language or other languages you speak.

    Or, imagine your company is giving you product knowledge training because a new version of their product is out. You can relate the new features with the old ones, making note of the differences and similarities. That will help the new knowledge stick in your mind better.


    2. Learn in different ways

    Everyone has a learning style, be it interpersonal, auditory, or another. 

    You have a preferred learning style too. Or maybe even several.  Some learners respond well to more than one learning style. 

    If you don’t know your learning style, the best way to find out is through trial and error. Let’s say you find yourself not understanding a training topic after reading a training manual.

    Is it the subject matter you’re struggling with? Or do you just need a different learning style? Why not find videos or podcasts on the same subject? It might turn out that you learn better from these. 

    However, even when knowing what learning style works best for you, you should still switch it up now and then. This has to do with cognitive load theory (more on that later). As it turns out, involving different senses and stimuli (auditory and visual) actually reduces cognitive load.


    3. Teach what you learn

    “If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.” According to online sources, these words came from either Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman. We’re not exactly sure who said it, but since they’re both physicists and Nobel Prize winners, we’re just going to focus on the meaning of the quote.

    What matters is that being able to explain something in relatively simple terms is a sign that you’ve learned it well. 

    So, anytime you have a chance, teach what you’ve learned to others. This is a great exercise when you’re learning in groups. You can divide the lesson among the group, and take turns explaining your part. 

    But what if you’re taking a self-paced online course via a Learning Management System (LMS)? 

    In that case, we’d like to introduce you to the programmer’s best friend—the rubber ducky.

    You obviously don’t have to be a programmer to use the rubber ducky method, though. You simply explain things to an inanimate object (or a dog if you want to have more fun) as you would to a real person. Doing so can uncover gaps in your knowledge and determine which parts of a lesson you should revise. 

    A word of caution, though. You may want to check the coast is clear before you start chatting to your rubber ducky at work. Your colleagues may get concerned.  


    4. Avoid multitasking

    At long last, the age of multitasking is over. If you’ve been around the block looking for a job, you’ll remember all the job postings mentioning multitasking (and also its sneaky cousin context switching ). 

    However, the neuroscience is in, and the findings are clear—multitasking just doesn’t work. Human brains simply aren’t wired that way. 

    It makes sense, doesn’t it? Imagine trying to complete a learning activity on your computer while your phone keeps popping up with notifications. It’s a distraction, plain and simple. And it won’t lead you to positive learning outcomes.

    So, we’re going to recommend that you follow the research studies and avoid multitasking if you’re trying to learn something. Instead, you’ll want to turn to methods such as agile learning which focus on giving the subject matter your full attention. 


    5. Try distributed practice

    Let’s say you have a mountain of learning materials in front of you. There are videos, PowerPoint presentations, quizzes, interactive games, and who knows what other training material.

    Do you think trying to tackle it all at once is a great idea? Our guess is no. 

    Instead, it’s best to use a strategy called distributed practice. 

    Don’t let the highfalutin name fool you. It’s quite simple. Rather than trying to cram massive amounts of learning at once in a long study session, you do brief and focused sessions and take breaks in between. 

    According to this study on the matter, distributed practice is one of the most effective learning strategies. So, we’ll ask you to follow the science once again. 

    And, if the science hasn’t convinced you, remember what Desmond Tutu once said: “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” 


    6. Test yourself

    We know, nobody’s crazy about taking tests. However, they’re a great way to boost learning efficiency. This includes knowledge checks, quizzes, and final assessments delivered in an LMS.

    That’s due to something called the testing effect. It turns out that researchers in educational psychology found that tests aren’t just great tools for assessment.

    Testing yourself sharpens your short-term memory, makes you recall the learning material better, and greatly increases your long-term memory. 

    So, the next time you’re learning something, don’t skip the quizzes and final assessments in the learning modules. If there aren’t any tests, just make up your own little quizzes. 

    Ask yourself questions, and then answer them. Doing this is very simple, yet very effective. Also, your test scores will indicate how well you understood the lesson and any knowledge gaps. You can then follow up on your weaker areas by reviewing the training content. 

    Alright, now we know how to optimize our learning efficiency as learners. But what about boosting it when we’re teaching someone else? If that’s something that interests you, read on through to the next section.


    How to improve learning efficiency in your teaching (programs, courses, etc.)

    So, how do you improve learning efficiency for your learners if you are a teacher, tutor, or educator in general? Let’s find out. 

    One quick and easy way to increase learning efficiency in all your educational efforts is to use a high-quality LMS that offers powerful learning efficiency analytics. These metrics give you a great overview of the overall learner performance in your organization.

    There are two main ways to increase learning efficiency: 

    • the VARK model 
    • the Cognitive Load Theory

    We’ll explain both below.

    Use the VARK model

    How can learners be efficient? That’s to say, how can you create the kind of learning environment that’s conducive to learning efficiency? 

    One really good way is to use the VARK model. It’s a model that describes different learning styles. Every learner has their style—some even have more than one. 

    If your learning materials cater to different types of learners, then the odds are greater that all trainees can find something to suit their learning style. This then leads to higher learning efficiency.

    There are four types of learners:

    • Visual: These learners prefer visual media such as pictures, infographics, videos, diagrams, illustrations, etc. They learn best when stimulating their visual senses.
    • Auditory: The learners in this category get the most out of audio media. Lectures, music, discussion, and even podcasts will help them learn more in less time.
    • Reading and writing: These learners learn best when they have a lot of opportunities to read and write. Textbooks, blog posts, lists—and of course, taking lots of notes.
    • Kinesthetic: Hands-on activities are key to getting through to kinesthetic learners. Make sure to include a lot of movement, demonstrations, and experiments.

    Onto the Cognitive Load Theory now.

    Put the Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) into practice

    The Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is a psychological theory developed by John Sweller in the 1988 article for the Cognitive Science journal.

    Since then, many other theorists have contributed to CLT. 

    The basic idea of this theory is that our working memory can only hold a limited amount of cognitive load. Since our working memory has limited space, educators have to take that into account when they design learning experiences.

    According to CLT, this is what the learning process looks like: First, sensory memory filters through stimuli, then new information passes into the working memory. With rehearsal and repetition, information moves into the long-term memory from the working memory. 

    There are three types of cognitive load:

    • Intrinsic Load: This load comes from the level of complexity of the subject matter itself and you can’t do anything about it except be aware of it.
    • Germane Load: This is the relevant load imposed by learning activities to achieve learning objectives. This is the cognitive load you can control as an educator.
    • Extraneous Load: This is the bad type of cognitive load as it comes from things that are not relevant to the learning objectives, such as badly designed learning aids e.g. graphs and illustrations that are too complex or hard to read properly. You should avoid this irrelevant load at all times.

    The most important thing to remember about these three types of cognitive load is that they’re addictive. Ideally, you want to minimize the extraneous load through well-designed and easy-to-understand learning objects. This will leave room in the working memory for the intrinsic and germane loads.

    Remember, the working memory can hold about five to nine bits of information at the same time.

    There are also ways to increase the capacity of the working memory. 

    1. The first way is to take advantage of the fact that the brain processes visual and auditory information separately. 

    A picture and a piece of text over it compete with each other. Animation and an accompanying narration don’t. This is the modality effect, and according to the science, the latter example leads to better learning efficiency.

    1. The second way to extend working memory has to do with things called “schemas.” Schemas are knowledge structures in long-term memory that organize information according to how you use it. 

    Let’s say you’re learning what a tomato is —the fact that it’s a fruit, red, and has a sweet and sour taste—all of these are separate bits of information. But when you already know what a tomato is, the “tomato schema” contains all that information and the working memory treats it as just one bit of knowledge. 

    So, you should always relate new knowledge to previous knowledge to lessen the cognitive load for your learners. 

    Up next, a quick summary and we’ll give your working memory a rest. Stick with us.


    Learning efficiency is all about how fast and how accurately you can learn. There are ways to increase your learning efficiency, such as distributed practice. 

    If you’re an educator looking to make it easier for your learners to learn efficiently, you’ll want to look at the VARK model and the Cognitive Load Theory. 

    Paying attention to learning efficiency results in better learning outcomes, more engagement, and higher knowledge retention. 

    For more info on how different kinds of learning can impact your organization, take a look at our glossary.