Battling the Forgetting Curve with Retrieval Practise

Learn techniques that you can use to combat forgetfulness.

Published on 24 February, 2017 | Last modified on 1 November, 2022
The Forgetting Curve States that Acquired Knowledge is Forgotten Exponentially Over Time 2

The forgetting curve is also known as “Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve”, paying homage to its discoverer. In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German experimental psychologist, discovered that humans forget exponentially.

Ebbinghaus’ intention was to “show that higher mental processes could be studied through experimentation.” In his experiments, the psychologist tested his memory over various periods of time by attempting to memorise syllables that comprised consonant-vowel-consonant combinations.

The memory experiments concluded that information, when not put into practice, is forgotten over time. In other words, if you don’t apply your newly acquired knowledge, you’ll soon forget it. eLearning Industry outlines Ebbinghaus’ key principles to the forgetting curve:

  1. It’s usually easier to memorise new information if it’s tied to relevant, meaningful, or real-world scenarios.
  2. Learners need more time to absorb more learning material.
  3. Relearning information generally takes less effort than it does to learn information for the first time.
  4. When information is relearned, it takes longer to forget that information.
  5. Learning is more effective if the information is spread out over a longer period of time.
  6. Information begins to be forgotten immediately after the learning experience, but forgetting slows as time passes.

The Speed of Forgetting

Different factors contribute to the speed in which we forget new information. But, how fast do we forget? A Brandon Hall Group webinar, Send in the Reinforcements! How to Overcome the Forgetting Curve, concluded that within:

  • 1 hour:  People will have forgotten an average of 50 percent of the information presented.
  • 24 hours:  An average of 70 percent of new information is forgotten.
  • 7 days:  Forgetfulness claims an average of 90 percent of the information.

Yet, the speed of memory loss can vary. Training Industry reminds us that the difficulty of learned material, its meaning, representation, and other physiological factors (like stress or lack of sleep) change the speed of forgetting.

Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve

Using Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practise enhances and strengthens memory. During retrieval, learners think, recall, revise, and connect information. Jeffrey D. Karpicke, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University, summarises the power of retrieval practice:

“But learning is fundamentally about retrieving, and our research shows that practicing retrieval while you study is crucial to learning. Self-testing enriches and improves the learning process, and there needs to be more focus on using retrieval as a learning strategy.”

To get the most out of retrieval practise and recall exercises, think of retrieval practice like strengthening a muscle. To increase strength, practise should take effort; retrieval practise is not as simple as reviewing your study materials.

In his research, Karpicke found that most people aren’t great judges of study habits. This is especially the case when they review the learning materials directly in front of them. When this information is in eyesight, they think they know it better than they really do. In actuality, they aren’t retaining information.

Use Retrieval Practice to Overcome the Forgetting Curve

The Forgetting Curve and Sales Training

Retrieval practice is highly efficient in overcoming the forgetting curve. SwissVBS details how mobile technology can combat the speed of forgetting in their white paper, Send in the Reinforcements.

The learning and development management company partnered with Brandon Hall Group for their webinar. Their findings show that companies that practise learning reinforcement see:

  • 17 percent increase of B2B sales professionals meeting annual sales targets
  • 14 percent increase of sales teams meeting annual sales targets
  • 34 percent of new sales hires reaching first-year quotas

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