How to Make Learning Stick through AGES

Learning retention occasionally poses a challenge for L&D professionals. While we mostly manage to focus on what’s important, it’s sometimes too easy to forgo evidence-based practices in the favour of creating something glossy and glittery. Yet, no matter how much of a wow-factor your learning program comes with, it doesn’t matter at all if the learners don’t acquire and retain the learning. To stay focused on the things that really matter, the AGES model provides a good framework for looking at learning design.

The AGES model in a nutshell

While the field of neuroscience in learning is still probably in its infancy, there are a few key things scientists have already helped us to discover. One of primary interest relates to how the brain works when it comes to learning. Learning requires a process called hippocampal activation, which takes place as an experience engages and activates the hippocampus region of the brain. The better the activation, the more fruitful the learning.

As we’ve learned about the importance of hippocampal activation, the questions has become how to achieve that. And that’s where the AGES model comes in. AGES stands for attention, generation, emotion and spacing, each of which are of critical importance in making learning stick.

Now, let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.


Even without the AGES model, you’d probably know that attention is where all of it starts. If you fail to get your learners’ attention, whatever happens after is irrelevant. The more learners are able to focus, the more they can learn. But our knowledge of attention is not limited to just that.

Firstly, we know that the attention span of humans is limited. While there’s a lot of noise going around and loosely grounded guesses being presented, the research community’s consensus seems to be that the brain can sustain focus for around 20 minutes at a time. After that, it needs to rest and reactivate. Therefore, you should give your learners a break or switch to a less cognitively loading activity every 20 minutes to give the brain some time to recharge.


Once you’ve got your learners’ attention, you need to start generation. Generation is the process of learners connecting the learning to their existing knowledge. This process helps to form a rich network of neural links in the brain and hence help learning stick.

Therefore, instead of making learners passive recipients of information, we should plan a more active role for them. Corporate learning programs can be much more effective if we provide opportunities for generation. For instance, teaching others helps to form one’s own understanding. Creating content about the learning topic, e.g. reflections, commentary etc. is a good way to generate too.


Next, the third piece in the AGES model is emotion and its relevance to learning is quite straightforward. Emotional moments tend to stick with us. This is because emotional moments trigger hippocampal activation.

However, all emotions are not necessarily good for learning. If you trigger negative emotions by e.g. accidentally activating previous bad memories, learners may have a hard time focusing on the content, as they contemplate over their memories. Therefore, when using emotional learning techniques, try to keep it primarily positive!


Finally, one of the most important notions of the AGES model is that of spacing learning. The human brain is only able to process a very limited amount of information at a time. Too much information at once causes cognitive loading, which has an adverse effect on learning. To keep the cognitive load at a viable level, learning activities should be spread out over time, instead of trying to fit everything into a single session.

Especially if you’re already doing digital learning, there’s little reason to not space your learning. And if you’re still relying primarily on face to face instruction, creating spacing even within sessions seems to help. And in case you’d like to explore digital opportunities in learning and making it effective, we’re happy to help. Just drop us a note here.