Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. -Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie

How do we learn?

I found the diagram below in an interesting blog at

I started college in 1979 from the top portion of my high school class, good in math, science and Latin; an excellent reader; and a quick learner. After ten years of college, my first job was teaching at a technical college. I learned that most instructors teach and evaluate students in the way they are most comfortable. After ten years of college, I was most comfortable with lecture and exams. That doesn’t fly for most technical college students. Next I learned about learning styles as shown above in the four colors. Many of my students were kinesthetic, meaning that they would literally not learn until they did the hands-on work. Think of students studying auto mechanics. How do they learn? Not by reading the book! Other students didn’t learn until they had a chance to talk about the material; they were social. Some students were equal in all four areas of learning.

Next I learned about retention of learning. As shown in the diagram, it is generally regarded that we retain 10% of what we read and 90% if we immediately use the information we just learned. Of course every person varies with their personal percentage, but the numbers represent the population averages. Now I understand why reading assignments of material before a learning activity do very little on their own toward actually learning and retaining the information. The exception is people with photographic memories; my statement does not apply to them.

A third piece in learning is not pictured here. That is, we must be exposed to new information at least 21 times to learn. When a child learns their ABCs, they sing the song over and over and over. The bedroom has the letters as art. There are books. There are videos. There are CDs. Children are quick learners, so we need to give our adult selves a break on expecting to learn information. For example and in the PCQI workshop, PCQIs learn the definition and application of “corrections” compared to corrective actions. The PCQI participant reads the definition and term within the book, sees the term on the projection of the slides, hears the Lead Instructor say the term many times, and uses the term in discussion with their team. Will the participant retain the definition of the term? Maybe. There may not be enough exposures to the term for it to stick.

The design of the curriculum maximizes learning for a wide range of learners in the population given the time we have in the workshop. This is just a start.

Another really cool thing that is happening in our brain is myelination. We used to think our brain did not grow in adulthood. That is absolutely not true. As we learn new material, new cells are making connections to other cells. As that cell is used over and over with the new information, layers of myelin are added to stabilize and cement the new cell. Those of you in my generation, do you ever wonder why you can still sing, “876-5309?” Myelin! If you play an instrument and it has been years, you can sit down and it just happens. Riding a bike. Reciting lines in a play or football play call. Myelin!

I think it is pretty freaky awesome that there are hard-core researchers out there discovering how we learn and giving us cool diagrams like the one above. I distinctly remember when I learned about PowerPoint. It was about 1995, and PowerPoint was slowly added as a tool in adult education. Just think, all my learning before 2000 happened without PowerPoint.

Learning changed quickly due to electronics. Young adult brains are literally wired differently due to exposure to devices, compared to older adults. I attended a K-12 teacher conference around 2010. There were about 500 teachers in the room. The speaker showed a video in which a group of about six teenagers bounced a ball back-and-forth from person to person. We were instructed to follow the movement of the ball. Of course, I thought it was a lesson in team-building. At the end of the video, the speaker asked us to raise our hand if we saw the gorilla walk through the scene. Gorilla, what gorilla?!! How could I not see a gorilla? Looking around the room, all the teachers, fresh out of college, i.e. young, had their hands raised. What? The speaker played the video again, and yes, there was a large person in a gorilla suit casually walking through the scene. All the young brains wired on computers and electronics had seen all the action. In 2010, that was less than 10% of the audience. I would expect that number to increase annually.

As Lead Instructors, we have an obligation to not only present the material in the curriculum, but to facilitate adult learning. The workshop has been designed to teach the material with multiple exposures of information, to address different learning styles, and to maximize retention. Adult education goes beyond making sure our participants are comfortable in the room and enjoy snacks and beverages, which in my opinion are very important! It is critical to try to meet the needs of each learner. Following the design of the curriculum is a good start.

Dr. Kathy Knutson has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at

Training of Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI): the Basics

Who trains PCQIs? Lead Instructors (LIs). LIs come from industry, academia, government, professional and trade associations, or are independent consultants like me. All LIs are PCQIs and attended a workshop using the FDA-recognized curriculum. There are hundreds of us. In the same way PCQIs are being tracked by the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI), there is a list of LIs. My guess is that half of LIs are in industry, teaching privately within their company. Think of very large companies and the need for internal training of PCQIs. Corporate LIs are getting people at each of their plants trained as PCQIs.

Professional and trade associations offer either private or public workshops. If you are in a specific field like produce (pun intended), dairy, bakery, or others, it may be beneficial for you to attend a PCQI workshop with an association serving your industry. You can go to the association website to look for training offerings. The other option when seeking a workshop is the list on the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA) website. In order for PCQIs to receive a certificate from IFPTI and FSPCA, the workshop is registered with IFPTI. You can search by course, course start date or location, with a link to registration. Go to the following page and click on FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food Courses under RESOURCES:

or directly here might work:

I just spent some time navigating the list, and it is frustrating. Hang in there! FSPCA updated their website, and it is not for the better on the course listing page. At this point, there is a PCQI workshop every business day somewhere in the world. As consultants, Matt Botos, ConnectFood CEO, and I teach both private and public workshops and are willing to travel almost anywhere in the world. Matt was sent to Kingston, Jamaica when other LIs refused to go. That’s our Matt!

Over 18,000 PCQIs have been trained using the FDA-recognized curriculum. Some are the sole PCQI at their facility. Other companies have sent waves of personnel to get trained and stacked their departments with multiple PCQIs. Even expert food safety consultants have gone through the training to receive the title of PCQI. No matter where they come from, all PCQIs have been trained with the same curriculum.

Every PCQI receives the same book and training from the same deck of PowerPoint slides. I have been trained to write curriculum at the high school and college level. The curriculum is practically perfect in presenting information in 16 chapters, each starting with objectives, then material, chapter summary and additional reading resources. The book is packed with information and used by PCQIs as the bible of food safety. PowerPoint slides, worksheets and model food safety plans are all provided. As a LI, I add my personal stories and can supplement my own slides or handouts into the presentation.

There is only one recognized curriculum. It involves 20 hours of training. A typical public workshop is two-and-one-half days. Private workshops can be designed any way you want. If you want to do ten weeks of two-hour training sessions, that works! Five, four-hour sessions work. The requirement is to cover all the material, and participants must be present at all times. There are training companies offering workshops with their own curriculum and materials which are not recognized by FDA. If a workshop is not registered with IFPTI, the participants will not receive a certificate from IFPTI and FSPCA. Receiving a certificate from a different organization does not meet the requirement in the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule and will not be recognized by FDA. There are no on-line workshops at this time recognized by FDA. Buyer beware!

Matthew Botos and I welcome your questions about training.

Dr. Kathy Knutson has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at