The forgetting curve in learning hypothesizes the decline of memory retention in time. This curve shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. The concept of forgetting curve in learning originated in the late 19th century, with German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who was amongst the first scientists to perform experiments to understand how memory works.

According to Ebbinghaus, the level at which we retain information depends on a couple of things:

•The strength of your memory

•The amount of time that has passed since learning

In the context of learning the learners are likely to forget 90% of what is learned within a month.  One can always argue about the authenticity of these figures as there are many other factors that make the people forget the things learned but to a certain extent it holds good that we tend to forget information over a period of time.

Researchers and scientists world over are still pursuing to unlock the potential of the human brains to store information for long and there are some interesting findings-like Dr. Roediger’s research says that when you force a learner to recall information in the hours and days after formal learning is complete, then they are much more likely to retain that information in the long run. In fact, Ebbinghaus also discovered a solution to beat the forgetting curve. According to him the downward slope of the forgetting curve can be softened by repeating the learned information at particular intervals.  

The retention of information has been further benefited with technological innovations like e-learning. Hence, let’s explore some popular ways the learning technologies can aid in overcoming the forgetting curve.

1. Reinforcing the training at regular intervals

After the completion of training, be it a traditional classroom training or e-learning, the organisation can use microlearning to reinforce learning at regular intervals. The microlearning nuggets should be short snippets of the learning topic that are easily comprehensible and are drawn from the main learning topic itself. The organisation can include a combination of multimedia and text to hook the learners. For example, a quick animated explainer video, interactive infographics or an interactive pdf, the use of microlearning games as well as microlearning animations are some popular ways that can serve as quick reinforcement tools for subject content which was learned in a formal environment.

2.Bite-sized learning content

After attending a lengthy classroom session, you might have noticed that you feel tired or exhausted. This is simply because you were exposed to information overload. While your brain will never show a pop up of ‘memory full’ as a USB hard disk,  there is a limit to which a learner can hold the things in memory for a time period. Hence to overcome the forgetting curve, it’s very important to deliver the learning topics in smaller chunks or bite-sized learning units.

3. Make the information available on demand

With the advancement of technology, on-demand learning has gained a greater importance today. On-demand learning can fight the forgetting curve as the learner is then able to access the learning content anytime and anywhere. When the learner pulls the information at the time of the need, the quality of learning improves. This helps to rewire the brain and shift the information from short term to long term.

4.Using social learning techniques

The modern learning technologies allow the organisation to set up a social platform or using any other existing social platforms to encourage social learning where the learners are able to ask questions freely, answer those of others by explaining what they know and work together to find the right solutions. The constant interaction between the peer learners and the exchange of knowledge helps in fighting the forgetting curve.
Social learning can be further improved by the techniques like sending regular notifications, adding elements of gamification etc. For example, we are familiar with notification alerts from social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn etc. Such notification invites the users for an action like commenting on a post and participating in a discussion, like and share a post etc. Such reminders can be easily created and pushed across the learner to remind to perform various tasks that help in defeating the forgetting curve like, to complete the learning process, inviting the learner to challenge other peer learners by defeating their scores, participating in discussions and much more.

5.Including e-learning assessments   

The primary role of every e-learning assessment is to check the knowledge level of the learner on the learning topic. By solving the assessments, the learner practices retrieving the learned information from memory. This can be through answering the MCQs, solving challenges and even by playing serious e-learning games. I recommend including e-learning games or implement game-based assessments as it can help the learner to travel through an individual learning path solving challenges and achieving the objectives

6.Gamification and game-based learning

There is no doubt that e-learning gamification and game elements are able to raise the level of engagement in the e-learning. A game based learning approach provides an immersive learning experience where every learner completes the learning process through an individual learning path to achieve the set milestones and objectives. When the learner is enjoying a game, it results in the release of the chemical substance dopamine inside the brain and scientifically dopamine stimulates memory and can promote the release of acetylcholine which can increase our focused attention.

7.Machine learning and artificial intelligence

With machine learning and artificial intelligence, the forgetting curve of the learner can be combated effectively. For example, the machine learning capabilities can study the learner behavior and learning pattern to recommend the learning topics to the learners, thus helping the learner to fight the forgetting curve.

With the learning technologies constantly evolving to match the multi-generational workforce, I am sure that the future will see better ways to combat the forgetting curve in learning. Feel free to share your suggestions and recommendations using the comment box below.