There is a study from German scientist Ebbinghaus conducted back in 1880-1885. His goal was to determine the period of time people keep the unused knowledge in their memory and can use it quickly, without long recalling. He called it the formulae of forgetting and the resulting curve is called the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve.
In short, he concluded that repeating even unused information at some intervals keeps the knowledge retention high, so that forgetting is nearly impossible. It’s important to stress out that forgetting curve for actively used knowledge is much longer than for the unused one, so the skills your team uses on a daily basis remain sharp.
Why We Keep Forgetting and What We Can Do About It
Human memory is a complex mechanism with a finite capacity. Often, the information we learn is not retained for long due to the natural process of forgetting. This happens because our brains tend to eliminate unused information over time to make space for new memories. However, there are several techniques we can use to enhance our memory retention, ensuring that vital information is not lost.
What Is the Forgetting Curve?
The forgetting curve was first introduced by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 19th century; it illustrates the decline of memory retention over time. Essentially, it shows that if there is no attempt to retain it, information is quickly forgotten soon after learning.
The curve is exponential, meaning that forgetting is rapid at first, but the rate of loss decreases over time.
But what about the skills the team does not use at the moment? Is your team’s current skill set used at peak efficiency? How can this be checked with optimal ROI and time usage? Here are the 4 steps you should make to ensure maximum staff retraining efficiency.
- Make reassessment of knowledge. Once your team completes the online course or in-house training, plan the test. You can even schedule it in 31 days, like in the research above.
- Split the team into groups according to the test results. Team members that use the skills will forget less and will be able to take retraining much later, as compared to the ones who do not actively use the gained knowledge.
- Form the relearning schedule for each group. Different groups will take retraining at different times, minimizing time and effort spent.
- Repeat p.p. 2-3 several times. In a couple of iterations you will create an optimal retraining schedule for your team.
The Importance of Not Forgetting
Not forgetting is critical, especially when it comes to knowledge and skills necessary for our work or daily lives. It aids in the seamless execution of tasks, decision-making, and problem-solving.
Frequent usage or review of information helps people to maintain a high level of memory retention, thereby flattening the forgetting curve.
How to Prevent Forgetting and Boost Your Memory
1. Use “Spaced Learning.”
Spaced learning, or spaced repetition, is a technique that involves increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material. It’s one of the most powerful ways to reinforce what you’ve learned and counter the effects of the forgetting curve.
Figure 2 – Using Spaced Learning to Combat the Forgetting Curve
Spaced learning can significantly slow down the rate of forgetting, making it an effective memory-boosting tool.
Overlearning is the process of practicing a skill or studying information beyond the point of initial mastery. This technique can help enhance retention and automaticity of the learned skill or information.
For skills that require muscle memory, such as playing an instrument or typing, overlearning can be particularly effective.
3. Make Information Meaningful
Try to connect new information with something you already know. By building relationships between new and existing knowledge, the information becomes more meaningful and easier to remember.
4. Keep Challenging Your Memory
Regularly challenging your memory with brain-training exercises or puzzles can keep your mind sharp. It helps build cognitive reserve, which contributes to the brain’s resilience and longevity.
Remember that forgetting is a natural process, but it can be mitigated with techniques like spaced learning, overlearning, making information meaningful, and memory challenges. The key is consistency and understanding your brain’s unique learning pattern.
This way, by using the scientific approach and knowledge of human brain performance, you can achieve maximum staff retraining efficiency and optimal usage of an existing skill set. If you have more questions or ideas – drop us a line. We are always open for discussion!
[Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). ‘Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology,’ New York: Dover. Available here.
Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). ‘About Sleep’s Role in Memory,’ Physiological Reviews, 93(2), 681-766. Available here.
Murre, J. M. & Dros, J. (2015). ‘Replication and Analysis of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve,’ PloS one, 10(7). Available here.
Cepeda, N., Pashler, H., et al. (2006). ‘Distributed Practice in Verbal Recall Tasks: A Review and Quantitative Synthesis,’ Psychological Bulletin [online]. Available here.