Mental Recall Tools for Training and Development

After training is done, how do you help staff remember and use what they’ve learned?

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes two modes in which our brain primarily functions: what he calls the “Fast Brain” and the “Slow Brain.” The Fast Brain, or System 1, is all about knee jerk reactions, instinctive functions we perform almost without thinking. The Fast Brain is instinctual and emotional, says this article about cognition. Throughout the day, we often operate in our Fast Brain – a mindset akin to “driving to work on auto-pilot, not remembering much about the drive.” The Fast Brain makes up 98% of our thinking, and is part of what has helped us survive and evolve as a species.

The Slow Brain, or System 2, is the logical, decision-making and problem-solving side of our thinking. When we come across a tough challenge, we turn on our Slow Brain. While it only makes up 2% of our thinking, according to Kahneman’s article on Fast and Slow Thinking Explained, this system is responsible for most of our big choices/judgements, as well as guiding us through tricky tasks.

It takes time for our body to turn on our Slow Brain. It also takes more physical energy, even triggering physiological change – to the point that our pupils may dilate! Think about how the speed of your day is disrupted by an algebra problem, making an educated choice between two products, or deciphering a nuanced judgement call. Some may even experience mental exhaustion, pain, or frustration as a manifest of the Slow Brain – and, can sometimes tempt us to fall back on our Fast Brain when overwhelmed, as detailed in this article on titled ‘Fast and Slow’: Pondering The Speed of Thought.

So how does all this relate to training?

When you train someone, you want them to have retained the information, expecting them to deploy those new learnings at the moment they need to do so. If the learner doesn’t successfully do that, then you (as a community or organization) haven’t successfully trained them. Most training principles aren’t just about memorizing knowledge and regurgitating it on a test. You train people to apply what they learn when they need to - so they can successfully perform their job or duty.

Training isn’t successful unless we provide learners the best opportunity to recall information when they need to.

 An understanding of the Fast Brain / Slow Brain dynamic helps us to align our training approach with how the brain naturally works. Consider this:


If you ask employees to attend a two-hour training program to teach them how to talk to store customers - and you pack lots of great information into that 2 hours session – what is the likelihood your employees are going to retain all of that information and deploy it when it counts? 


 According to this research from, the likelihood is really low.  To make your investment in training count, you’ve got to work on increasing the chances that people will recall the information or skill when they need to use it.

Let’s use an example of training a store employee to work with a customer:

  • Let’s say the customer isn’t happy with a product, and as a result, there is a tense, heightened moment.

  • This is where the store employee would ideally deploy the training they’ve received to de-escalate the situation.

  • It’s likely that the employee will be stressed and operating with their Fast Brain – acting upon impulsive or emotional cues. The Fast Brain is instinctual and behaves based on biases and methods that it has already learned.

  • If the information you’ve taught them isn’t easily accessible by the Fast Brain, it simply won’t get deployed when it counts.

One of the heuristics (processes and methods) that Kahneman explores in his book is the Availability Heuristic. In psychology, availability is the ease with which a particular idea can be brought to mind.  This principle operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternative solutions that take longer to remember.

Under the Availability Heuristic, people tend to heavily weigh their judgments toward more recent information, like this article on the Decision Lab website, making new opinions biased toward their most recent news developments.

 Back to our example:

  • You spend only 2 hours training an employee how to work with customers - and that’s the last they hear of it.

  • The more days that pass since the training, the less available that information becomes.

  • It then becomes more likely that the employee relies on other information – ideas you haven’t trained them to use but are easier or faster to call upon in that critical moment.

So how do you help learners deploy information you’ve taught them when it counts?

The traditional first touch is reaching the learner through live classroom events, virtual events, or independent coursework, but how do we go beyond that initial transfer of knowledge and make tactics easy to recall by the Fast Brain when it counts?

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Repetition: Send out video or quiz refreshers incrementally over measured periods of time. Check out our blog for tips on when the brain ideally needs those updates!

  • Roleplay: Put skills and knowledge into practice by having teammates act out what they’ve learned in role-playing scenarios so they can make mistakes and learn from them.

  • Peer Learning: Provide opportunities for learners to teach others. Studies show that peer-to-peer approaches allow for free-flowing ideas, bridge learning gaps, and promote all 4 stages of the “Learning Loop”: Gain knowledge; practice by applying that knowledge; get feedback; and reflect on what has been learned.

Put Hotbed Media’s training material creation and video production expertise to work.

At Hotbed, we love to help companies of all sizes create training documentation and videos that are effective and memorable. We partner with companies to determine the best format for training their employees, considering things like recalling things learned in training at the point that training is needed, follow-up and re-training, tools available to employees and making an emotional impact on those being trained. We are experts in training video production, but we’re not limited to this format by any means.

Do you have other ideas or thoughts on the Slow and Fast Brain?  We would love to hear from you!