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What’s the forgetting curve and how can we overcome it?

Voco Team
Graphic image of the forgetting curve showing the decrease in retention of information over 7 days

As amazing as us humans can be, we also have limitations, and one of the biggest ones is our ability to remember and retain all the information we receive. On the one hand, this makes complete sense. There’s just no way that our brains can possibly process and hold on to every little detail, they’d just get overloaded! But this tendency towards forgetting useful information can also present us with challenges in a growth and development context, as we simply don’t recall the things we’ve been taught.

And that’s the forgetting curve in action. 

According to the seminal research of German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, when you learn something new you are likely to forget it pretty rapidly unless you put it into practice straight away. In fact, his forgetting curve suggests that learners will forget 90% of new information within seven days!

That’s because our ability to recall information drops quickly and degrades rapidly over time. So even if a training course or learning curriculum is brilliant, our ability to remember the ‘lightbulb moment’ is slim when we step out of the context within which it was delivered. Though this research is old - dating back to 1885 to be exact - it continues to ring true in the repeated studies of other, more contemporary, social psychologists. 

Finding an anchor

So how can we overcome the forgetting curve and make sure that the investments we make in structured learning actually deliver value over the long haul? First off, we need a psychological anchor to process the new information we’ve just learned. 

If the information was delivered in a particularly memorable way, we might find it more easy to recall as we have a trigger to refer back to. But, if like many structured learning interventions, it was just one part of a large body of information, this new piece of learning needs to be reinforced before it can be properly remembered. 

Learning needs reinforcement because our brains prefer to follow the well trodden paths of thought they always have. We need to actively re-engage with what we have learnt as soon as we can so that we can process it effectively. So taking time to review and engage with what we’ve learned, perhaps by noting our reflections or insights, as soon as possible, we increase the likelihood of locking that learning in.

Reinforcement through repetition

Reinforcement also needs to reoccur through the repetition of an action, or working through, in more detail, what you have learnt, why it’s important and how you can use it to best effect. Ebbinghaus calls this process ‘spaced learning’ and it describes the importance of regular review; taking the opportunity to reflect on the actions you have taken and make adjustments so that this new piece of learning can have a lasting impact that results in a real developmental shift.

Because it is easier to remember the things you learn in context, going through this process with someone else and learning together - sharing actions, successes and failures - is a great way to put spaced learning into practice and create the right environment for the information recall that makes learning possible. 

Creating opportunities for learners to put new learnings into practice in relevant, near-time contexts can be key to retaining that information and making process. And the more interactive and collaborative that real-world activity is, the better! 

Harnessing the power of our peers

At Voco, we see peer conversations as a vital solution to overcoming the forgetting curve, enabling people to connect to discuss and workshop information in real-time. And while not every memory is subject to degradation, by focusing on increasing access to spaced, interactive learning opportunities through peer interactions, we can help learners remember more of what they need to know.

Book a demo to find out how Voco can help you harness the power of peers to build a connected, inclusive learning culture in the new world of work.

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