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Exploring the Forgetting Curve

November 23, 2022

Exploring the Forgetting Curve

Memory plays a crucial role in our daily lives, especially in learning. While retaining knowledge is key, it’s natural to forget. Struggling to recall information can dent confidence and induce stress. So, how do we enhance our memory? It begins with grasping the mechanisms of forgetting.

At the heart of this understanding lies Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. Developed by the pioneering German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, this curve illustrates how our recall of learned information diminishes over time.

An image of a graph that illustrates the forgetting curve
The Forgetting Curve

Ebbinghaus found the following key points of memory retention and memory loss:

  • Memory weakens over time. When we learn something new we tend to forget it unless we continually relearn the information.
  • The largest decrease in memory retention occurs soon after learning. This fact is reflected in the steep drop at the beginning of the forgetting curve above. 
  • Information that has meaning to the learner is easier to learn. People are more likely to forget information about topics they have no interest in and retain information about topics that interest them greatly.
  • Presentation counts for a lot. Information can be absorbed with ease or difficulty depending on the means of communication. Learners tend to remember information that has been logically organised and presented clearly.
  • Your mood affects your ability to learn. There are physiological factors that undermine the learning and remembering process, like stress and lack of sleep. These factors can snowball as people get stressed because of their inability to retain knowledge, which then causes further stress and undermines their ability to learn even more.

Memory can be broadly categorised into long-term and short-term memory. To illustrate this, consider navigating through a new town. If you’re merely passing through and stop at a restaurant, you’re unlikely to remember the server’s name and face beyond that moment. However, you’re more likely to recall details if there’s a notable positive or negative interaction. Now, compare this to your regular restaurant back home. With multiple interactions, you easily remember the server’s name and appearance. This example mirrors the cycle we replicate in our Learning Hub to enhance memory retention.

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