The Forgetting Curve: How Your L&D Team Can Defeat It
These statistics show us that training programs can’t focus on the subject matter alone. To get the best return on investment, you need to design programs that help employees retain what they learn.
To uncover the best way to retain newly learned information, let’s explore the concept of the forgetting curve and what it means for learning and development (L&D) professionals.
What is the “forgetting curve,” and why does it matter?
The “forgetting curve” was first researched and demonstrated by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 19th century. The basic concept is that after learning, people tend to forget most new information right away. And over time, they continue to forget more and more.
Using himself as the subject of his experiment, Ebbinghaus tested his ability to remember a string of words over time. He found that memory drops dramatically in the first few days after learning something. Then, memory loss continues over the next several weeks and eventually flattens after about the 30-day mark.
So what does this mean for you? “For the learning professional, the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is a reminder that we must reinforce training regularly, especially for the first thirty days after training, in order to ensure that a high percentage of the content is retained after the learning experience,” writes Margie Meacham for the Association for Talent Development.
Add these tactics to your toolkit to overcome the forgetting curve
Luckily, learning has come a long way since Ebbinghaus experimented on himself. You have plenty of tools and tactics that will help you make learning stick in your workplace. Here are a few to try out.
1. Take a tiny break for microlearning
Microlearning teaches learners just enough knowledge to achieve a specific goal. There are many benefits to this approach. It enables employees to learn a new skill and immediately apply it — without disrupting their workflow. Imagine an employee who’s trying to learn a particular Excel trick. They can look it up, watch a short tutorial, and try it out in less time than it takes to grab a cup of coffee.
2. Use relevance to boost retention
We tend to retain information much better when we have an emotional connection to what we’re learning. By creating a narrative that employees can relate to, they’ll be more engaged and ready to absorb information. For example, if your goal is to build data literacy skills, show employees the possible career paths and advancement opportunities accessible with those skills.
3. Repeat it or it gets deleted
Ebbinghaus didn’t just show us how we forget information — his research also demonstrated how to retain it with something called “spaced repetition.” Reviewing what you’ve learned at regular intervals can help you overcome the forgetting curve. In addition, encourage employees to practice new skills frequently, whether through stretch projects or by teaching those skills to peers.
4. Put new skills to the test — literally
Remember those scary pop quizzes from high school? You don’t need to turn into your least favorite teacher, but you can take a page from their book. The simple technique of adding a quiz to your learning program can help boost retention. You’ll quickly discover how effective your learning module is and where you can improve it.
Make learning memorable
When you limit learning to long one-off sessions, you’re putting your learners at a disadvantage. The forgetting curve teaches us that the key to making learning memorable is to keep it short, sweet, and to the point. The techniques we’ve covered above will keep you and your employees on track.
Looking for other ways to maximize the return on your investment in learning? Download How to Overcome Learning Obstacles in the Workplace for tips and tricks to help you build a learning culture at your organization.