forgetting-curve

What is the forgetting curve?

The forgetting curve was first proposed in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist and pioneer of experimental research into memory.  The forgetting curve illustrates the rate at which information is lost over time if the individual does not make effort to retain it.

Understanding the forgetting curve

Ebbinghaus developed a model to show how we lose information over time if no attempt is made to retain it.

The curve of the model was created after the psychologist tested his own capacity to memorize meaningless three-letter terms over time.

Once all the data points were plotted, Ebbinghaus noted an exponential decline in information loss.

In other words, most of the memory loss occurred in the first few days with the rate tapering off thereafter. 

Based on further research, he posited that the level of retention depended on:

What influences information retention?

Ebbinghaus theorized that the rate at which one forgets information was related to:

  • The difficulty of the learned material. 
  • Whether learning was associated with physiological factors such as stress or sleep, and
  • The way the information was presented.

In addition to these variables, he also believed that the basal rate at which information was lost differed from one individual to the next. This difference could be explained by better memory representation and repetition based on active recall. 

Some of the retention methods that fall under these categories are outlined in the next section.

How can we push back against the forgetting curve?

There are numerous ways to increase memory retention. These include:

  1. Spaced learning where the individual learns information in bite-sized pieces over time. Marketers can also use this technique to convey a message over a series of articles, videos, or campaigns instead of all at once. 
  2. Making a connection – information is easier to recall when built on something the individual already knows. Every time their understanding is reinforced with meaningful or relevant information, retention increases. In the workplace, relevance means connecting the information with one’s role or responsibilities and referencing examples or scenarios they encounter daily.
  3. Maintain clarity – in a workplace context, training providers must be able to communicate the key points to employees in one or two sentences. If there is not this level of clarity in the explanation, it would be unreasonable to expect employees to retain the information. This is related to Ebbinghaus’s first point above where difficult learned material is harder to remember.
  4. Say it first and say it last – lastly, information positioned at the beginning and end of communication tends to be more effectively remembered. Whether it is a TV advertisement or a sales presentation, teams should book-end presented information with the most salient point.

Key takeaways:

  • The forgetting curve illustrates the rate at which information is lost over time if the individual does not make effort to retain it. The curve was first proposed in 1885 by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus.
  • Ebbinghaus theorized that the rate at which one forgets information depended on the difficulty of the learned material, the way information was presented, and whether harmful factors such as sleep or stress were present.
  • Happily, there are ways to combat the forgetting curve. These include spaced learning, making the information relevant and meaningful, maintaining clarity, and bookending communication with the most important point(s).

Connected Learning And Growth Frameworks

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

growth-mindset-vs-fixed-mindset
fixed mindset believes their intelligence and talents are fixed traits that cannot be developed. The two mindsets were developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck while studying human motivation. Both mindsets are comprised of conscious and subconscious thought patterns established at a very young age. In adult life, they have profound implications for personal and professional success. Individuals with a growth mindset devote more time and effort to achieving difficult goals and by extension, are less concerned with the opinions or abilities of others. Individuals with a fixed mindset are sensitive to criticism and may be preoccupied with proving their talents to others.

Constructive Feedback

constructive-feedback
Constructive feedback is supportive in nature and designed to help employees improve or correct their performance or behavior. Note that the intention of such feedback is to achieve a positive outcome for the employee based on comments, advice, or suggestions.

High-Performance Coaching

high-performance-coaching
High-performance coaches work with individuals in personal and professional contexts to enable them to reach their full potential. While these sorts of coaches are commonly associated with sports, it should be noted that the act of coaching is a specific type of behavior that is also useful in business and leadership

Training of Trainers

training-of-trainers-model-tot
The training of trainers model seeks to engage master instructors in coaching new, less experienced instructors with a particular topic or skill. The training of trainers (ToT) model is a framework used by master instructors to train new instructors, enabling them to subsequently train other people in their organization.

Active Listening

active-listening
Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

Active Recall

active-recal
Active recall enables the practitioner to remember information by moving it from short-term to long-term memory, where it can be easily retrieved. The technique is also known as active retrieval or practice testing. With active recall, the process is reversed since learning occurs when the student retrieves information from the brain.

Baptism by Fire

baptism-by-fire
The phrase “baptism by fire” originates from the Bible in Matthew 3:11. In Christianity, the phrase was associated with personal trials and tribulations and was also used to describe the martyrdom of an individual. Many years later, it was associated with a soldier going to war for the first time. Here, the baptism was the battle itself.  “Baptism by fire” is a phrase used to describe the process of an employee learning something the hard way with great difficulty. 

Dreyfus Model

dreyfus-model-of-skill-acquisition
The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition was developed by brothers Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1980. The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition is a learning progression framework. It argues that as one learns a new skill via external instruction, they pass through five stages of development: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.

Kolb Learning Cycle

kolb-reflective-cycle
The Kolb reflective cycle was created by American educational theorist David Kolb. In 1984, Kolb created the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) based on the premise that learning is facilitated by direct experience. In other words, the individual learns through action. The Kolb reflective cycle is a holistic learning and development process based on the reflection of active experiences.

Method of Loci

method-of-loci
The Method of Loci is a mnemonic strategy for memorizing information. The Method of Loci gets its name from the word “loci”, which is the plural of locus – meaning location or place. It is a form of memorization where an individual places information they want to remember along with points of an imaginary journey. By retracing the same route through the journey, the individual can recall the information in a specific order. For this reason, many consider this memory tool a location-based mnemonic.

Experience Curve

experience-curve
The Experience Curve argues that the more experience a business has in manufacturing a product, the more it can lower costs. As a company gains un know-how, it also gains in terms of labor efficiency, technology-driven learning, product efficiency, and shared experience, to reduce the cost per unit as the cumulative volume of production increases.

Feynman Technique

feynman-technique
The Feynman Technique is a mental model and strategy for learning something new and committing it to memory. It is often used in exam preparation and for understanding difficult concepts. Physicist Richard Feynman elaborated this method, and it’s a powerful technique to explain anything.

Learning Organization

learning-organization
Learning organizations are those that encourage adaptative and generative learning where employees are motivated to think outside the box to solve problems. While many definitions of a learning organization exist today, author Peter Senge first popularized the term in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organisation during the 1990s.

Forgetting Curve

forgetting-curve
The forgetting curve was first proposed in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist and pioneer of experimental research into memory.  The forgetting curve illustrates the rate at which information is lost over time if the individual does not make effort to retain it.

Instructor-Led Training

instructor-led-training
Instructor-led training is a more traditional, top-down, teacher-oriented approach to learning that occurs in online or offline classroom environments. The approach connects instructors with students to encourage discussion and interaction in a group or individual context, with many enjoying ILT over other methods as they can seek direct clarification on a topic from the source.  Instructor-led training (ILT), therefore, encompasses any form of training provided by an instructor in an online or offline classroom setting.

5 Whys Method

5-whys-method
The 5 Whys method is an interrogative problem-solving technique that seeks to understand cause-and-effect relationships. At its core, the technique is used to identify the root cause of a problem by asking the question of why five times. This might unlock new ways to think about a problem and therefore devise a creative solution to solve it.

Single-Loop Learning

single-loop-learning
Single-loop learning was developed by Dr. Chris Argyris, a well-respected author and Harvard Business School professor in the area of metacognitive thinking. He defined single-loop learning as “learning that changes strategies of action (i.e. the how) in ways that leave the values of a theory of action unchanged (i.e. the why).”  Single-loop learning is a learning process where people, groups, or organizations modify their actions based on the difference between expected and actual outcomes.

Spaced Repetition

spaced-repetition
Spaced repetition is a technique where individuals review lessons at increasing intervals to memorize information. Spaced repetition is based on the premise that the brain learns more effectively when the individual “spaces out” the learning process. Thus, it can be used as a mnemonic technique to transform short-term memory into long-term memory.

Blended Learning

blended-learning
Blended learning is a broad and imprecise field that makes it difficult to define. However, in most cases, it is considered to be a form of hybrid learning that combines online and offline instructional methods.

VAK Learning

vak-learning-styles-model

Lessons Learned

lessons-learned
The term lessons learned refers to the various experiences project team members have while participating in a project. Lessons are shared in a review session which usually occurs once the project has been completed, with any improvements or best practices incorporated into subsequent projects. 

Post-Mortem Analysis

post-mortem-analysis
Post-mortem analyses review projects from start to finish to determine process improvements and ensure that inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. In the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), this process is referred to as “lessons learned”.

Instructor-Led Training

instructor-led-training
Instructor-led training is a more traditional, top-down, teacher-oriented approach to learning that occurs in online or offline classroom environments. The approach connects instructors with students to encourage discussion and interaction in a group or individual context, with many enjoying ILT over other methods as they can seek direct clarification on a topic from the source.  Instructor-led training (ILT), therefore, encompasses any form of training provided by an instructor in an online or offline classroom setting.

5E Instructional Model

5e-instructional-model
The 5E Instructional Model is a framework for improving teaching practices through discussion, observation, critique, and reflection. Teachers and students move through each phase linearly, but some may need to be repeated or cycled through several times to ensure effective learning. This is a form of inquiry-based learning where students are encouraged to discover information and formulate new insights themselves.

Related Strategy Concepts: Read Next: Mental ModelsBiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon EffectDecision-Making Matrix.

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