Solving the Forgetting Curve in L&D with Retrieval Practice

Humans forget information exponentially over time. Learn how to battle the forgetting curve and retain information.

Published on 9 February, 2017 | Last modified on 1 November, 2022
The Forgetting Curve States that Acquired Knowledge is Forgotten Exponentially Over Time 1

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 memorize syllables consisting of 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 acquired knowledge you’ll soon forget it. To summarize, eLearning Industry outlines Ebbinghaus’ key principles to the forgetting curve:

  1. It’s usually easier to memorize new information if it is 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:  Forgetting claims an average of 90 percent of the information.

Yet, the speed of forgetting 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 practice enhances and strengthens memory. During retrieval, learners think, recall, revise, and connect information. Jeffrey D. Karpicke, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University, summarizes 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 practice and recall exercises make it effortful. Think of retrieval practice like strengthening a muscle. To increase strength, practice should be effortful. Retrieval practice is not simply reviewing materials.

In his research, Karpicke found that most people aren’t great judges of study habits. This is especially the case when they review learning materials directly in front of them. When 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 practice 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

The State of Learning and Development report is produced in conjunction with InSync Training to find out what are current L&D challenges and what the L&D professionals are planning on implementing in the future.

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