Do spaced repetition and the forgetting curve relate in any way? In 1885, a German Psychologist by the name Dr. Hermann Ebbinghaus carried out a series of studies on memory retention, using himself as a subject. Hermann memorized a list of meaningless syllables and periodically tested himself to see how many of the syllables he recalled at various points in time.
The forgetting curve
Some of his discoveries morphed into a theory commonly referred to as the “forgetting curve,” which relates to the effect of repetition and time on the ability to remember new things or information. The curve shows the decline in remembrance levels over time, following a study session.
The steepest part of the curve is immediate, meaning, learners will forget up to 50 per cent of new material within an hour of training or studying. Unfortunately, after a week, learners will have forgotten practically everything. But generally, people study and retain information; therefore, the forgetting curve is not the end of the story.
Forgetting is a significant element of the learning process since it helps the brain categorize vital information from irrelevant information. As you might be aware, in this era of information overload, a sorting or filtering process is necessary. According to researcher Benjamin Storm, “The ability to retrieve and generate appropriate, relevant and wanted information is made possible by the ability to inhibit, and thus forget, information that is inappropriate, irrelevant and unwanted.”
Spaced repetition can improve memory
Spaced learning or distributed practice can redesign the forgetting curve and help students or learners be in control of what material is retained and what is rejected. When a learner periodically reviews information and retrieves that info – by answering test questions, applying concepts, solving problems, or using other kinds of assessment – it reinforces the learning process. Alternatively, information which is not remembered tends to vanish from the learner’s memory.
That said; the intervals between recall or repetition attempts can grow over time, as the learner’s memory becomes stronger. The information also eventually become part of the learner’s long term memory, hence no need for frequent reviews.
Of course, other factors can influence memory and learning. They include:
- The method or process which was used to learn information
- The type of info which is being retrieved
- The mental representation the studied information triggers in the brain
- Psychological factors such as energy and sleep levels.
- So are you interested in spaced repetition and the forgetting curve?
Like we mentioned above, the good news is that we can employ spaced learning to hack our memory and help sieve what remains in the brain and for how long. Each re-exposure, if appropriately timed, can help push things we wish to recall, further into long-term memory.