Using variety to beat the ‘forgetting curve’

Most people forget 90% of what they’ve learned within a few hours. This is neither good nor bad. It’s just the way our brains are wired.

But why do we find it so hard to retain new information? And how can you beat, or reduce, this with your course structure? We’re here to help.

By Kasper Spiro on Jan 7th

how to beat the forgetting curve

Originally posted July 6, 2018

The forgetting curve

A big issue with many e-learning courses and one-off learning is that your employees quickly forget this new knowledge.

Of course, you could argue this isn’t a massive issue in today’s digital world. We can look things up and retrieve information whenever we need it. But not every work situation lends itself to that type of performance support.

There are plenty of jobs where all vital information is first memorized, followed then by lengthy practice time.

Take flying, for example. Most of us wouldn’t dream of stepping onto a flight with a pilot who’s busy learning on-the-job and referring to a manual.

That’s why we need an additional set of tools that can work alongside “just-in-time” learning aids.

Hermann Ebbinghaus’s research taught us there’s only one way to beat the forgetting curve. Repetition. By replaying new information regularly, you create a lasting effect. Repetition allows your learners to retain more.

learning and forgetting curve

But rather than merely repeating information in the same format, it’s better to re-introduce it in a different way. For example, in the form of a new scenario, quizzes, videos, etc.

Start with blended learning

Let’s say you’re leading a day-long classroom training about the core mechanics of a complex product. How do you make sure your learners continue to remember the fundamentals after the session?

Assessments at the end of the training are a great way of measuring skills and testing whether employees can apply their knowledge. But they’re more likely to retain that information long-term if they’re then asked to take part in practice sessions either at home or in the workplace.

This type of follow-up allows employees to further familiarize themselves with their new knowledge and apply it on-the-job.

Known as blended learning, this combination of classroom and digital learning or practice is a highly effective way of reinforcing new skills and knowledge.

Course authoring tools, like Easygenerator, have features that enable you to re-introduce content in different formats. For example:

  • Scenarios that enable learners to practice in a safe environment
  • Hotspots that provide visual and realistic learning aids
  • Curation that allows you to share meaningful resources along with additional context
  • ‘Show more’ options to add content extracts and detailed explanations

What’s the best way to incorporate repetition?

The best way to help employees retain information is by breaking your course up into small segments. It also stops it from turning into a vast and scary chunk of knowledge.

When creating a course, it’s best to come up with several assessments or activity questions. These will allow your learners to process and reflect on the information they’ve just learned.

By using a variety of question types for each topic, you’ll increase understanding and knowledge retention. Assessments that allow employees to apply their new knowledge in a practical context are particularly helpful. Especially if they’re then provided with immediate feedback on how well they’re doing.

What’s the best way to space learning?

We know that repetition is beneficial when it comes to quick memory recall, especially in relation to short-term retention. But how do you make sure information is retained longer-term?

The key here is spaced repetition, which means allowing some time to pass between different learning episodes.

For example, say your one-off course is finished. You then need to ensure there are several follow-up learning events, assessments, and/or additional courses that’ll’ reinforce the original course material.

Remember: repetition is good, but spaced repetition is better.

If you’d like to learn about other e-learning best practices, take a look at this blog post.

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About the author

Kasper Spiro is the CEO of Easygenerator and a recognized thought leader in the world of e-learning. With over 30 years of experience, he is a frequently asked keynote speaker and well-renowned blogger within the e-learning community.

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