I remember the first time I heard someone speaking a language other than English. I was eight years old. My family and I were visiting Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, and we had stopped by the Classic Cup Café to have a refreshment. As we sat together on the patio, I heard the people at the table next to me speaking a different language. I loved that experience.

As I studied other languages, I have often used the Pimsleur method since I have had great success with this program. One of the secrets to Paul Pimsleur’s methods is that he designed the courses to include cognitive shortcuts in order to maximize retention. These shortcuts can be utilized in any form of education, including eLearning.


Among the many techniques or hacks people can use to better remember information is spacing. Spacing utilizes “spaced” repetition in order to achieve maximized memorization. Instead of focusing on the same concept/topic/idea for a set period of time (e.g., rout memory), you would focus on the subject then focus on something else. After a set period of time, you would need to recall the previous information.

I utilize spacing when I am designing fact-heavy material. For example, as I design training on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), I will present a fact (e.g., “HIPAA was enacted in 1996 and provides data privacy for safeguarding medical information”), move on to something else (e.g., my company has a 99.97% HIPAA compliance rate; there are various HIPAA additional rules including the Privacy Rule and HITECH; etc.), and then focus back on the original information in the form of a short survey question. I will continue doing this until I get to the end of the module, in which I will have a graded measure. Typically, learners will do well on this measure due to the spacing of information.

Another hack I use in complex topics involves the elearner to “train” someone else. This hack promotes information retrieval. While it is easier to do in a classroom or lecture-based course, there are some interesting ways to do this in instructional design.  I prefer to have the learner write out the main components or learning objectives in a way that a 5-year old could understand it. This focuses the learner to engage with their creative faculties. This can be challenging for many, but it does go to demonstrate if the learning objectives have been met. What I have done in the past is for the learner to write their answer in a private forum. After I review/grade it, I then make it public for other learners in the class to see.

There are so many other cognitive hacks that can be used. What have you had success with?