One of the biggest challenges with learning is how much of the material is retained at a later date. There are many factors involved such as how engaging the tutor or course was, the motivation level of the learner, how revision and workshops were involved, stress levels, difficulty of material, and even the time of day.
What we often don’t realise is how little information we really do retain even after a very short period of time. This particular issue was studied by a German psychologist by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885), who came up with a concept called the “Forgetting Curve”. It demonstrates how we lose information over time without any attempt to retain it…
What’s fascinating is that it shows humans halve their memory of newly retained knowledge within a matter of days (just over 3). In fact, you forget 20% of it after the first day.
This is assuming you paid attention to the course in the first place and didn’t tune out or skim through the slides (if it was e-learning). The best time to re-enage with learning is right before you begin to forget it spaced out over a period of timed intervals. Every time you do this, you strengthen the memory and it takes a longer period of time for the decay to occur.
It’s why we cram for exams and spend our time revising just before them. Unfortunately, we stop after the exams and the information decay process begins. How many of us really remember what we learnt at University or College?
Finally, there is some debate about the shape of this curve for events or facts that have a strong emotional connection. This could be a shocking world news event or perhaps something tangible from a childhood, which can get vividly implanted in memory. Perhaps this is an evolutionary process that believes we need to remember things that could be dangerous (don’t eat that berry or fight the wild bear!)
Extra Brownie Points: Read the review of Ebbinhaus’ Original Paper
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