How Spaced Repetition Counters Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve

How Spaced Repetition Counters Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

Learning always had an evolutionary purpose among species: adaptation. Species that learned to adapt to their environment survived, those that didn’t were wiped out.

That is the reason why our brains can retain important information. For instance, it does not take too much effort to remember that the neighbor’s dog is hostile, but it takes a lot more effort to remember the dog’s name. One is about safety, the other is a random fact.

Today, humans seek to learn things beyond the scope of survival; we use evolutionary, adaptive memory to remember languages, complex theories, obscure words and much more.

This can be achieved if one “convinces” the brain that the information or the skill to be acquired is important, which would help overcome the ‘forgetting curve’.

The Forgetting Curve

But, what is a forgetting curve?

The forgetting curve is a mathematical formula that was discovered by Herman Ebbinghaus in the 19th century. The formula describes the rate at which information is forgotten after it is learned. This phenomenon of learning and forgetting is familiar to those who try to learn something a night before their exams.

The Herman study showed that the forgetting curve was initially very steep, and the knowledge retained drops dramatically. But the memory eventually levelled off and he was able to remember a few things for many days later.

The study also showed that the drastic drop in remembering can be curtailed if the information is repeated at pre-determined intervals. This is the basis of the learning method that is better known as ‘spaced repetition’.

Spaced repetition involves repeating and reviewing the information, which in turn, increases the strength of memory. The technique is not merely about repetitions. For instance, repeating a new fact 20 times in an hour will not overcome the forgetting curve. But recalling the information at intervals will help since the brain needs to reconstruct the memory, just as everyday exercises help strengthen muscles.

Forgetting Curve & Corporate Training

In the corporate world, this poses a huge problem for the training department. This is because nearly 50% of new information is ‘forgotten’ within the first hour, while 70% is lost within 24 hours of the completion of the training.

This is where microlearning and spaced repetition go together. Microlearning is an ideal solution since the content that is provided is bite-sized that can be easily digested and recalled.

The required information can be presented as mini-games, videos, or infographics along with 10-12 quizzes for the learner. These 2 to 5-minute microlearning modules can be accessed anywhere and anytime by learners at the time of their need.

For example, medical reps who have received training on a new drug can access the microlearning lessons about the product when they are waiting in the clinic to meet the doctor.

Our brains have limited capacity to remember only the information we use and discard anything that we don’t use. Hence, the work-around for this is to learn and recall the same information in different ways at different times.

Apart from this, microlearning has the advantage of being quick and convenient for modern learners who have short attention spans and multiple levels of distractions.

Here are some tips to remember while using the spaced repetition technique:

Context of the Learning

Merely defining a concept will not do unless the context of the application of the content is explained in detail. If a new concept is being taught to the learner, provide an example of its real-time application in the context of your own job/ task. In case it is a familiar concept, introduce an example of application in a different job/task. Explain the concept in your own words.

Review it Once a Day

Just as cramming all workout sessions in a day and not exercising after that fails to build muscles, memory too can be built only over consistent effort over time. Therefore, review the content to refresh memory once a day. Ensure your brain has enough rest between the repetitions.

Choosing a powerful tool to help employees to remember the information by overcoming the ‘forgetting curve’ will not only save time but reduce the average corporate spend on re-training their staff.

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