Overcoming The Forgetting Curve

Reading time: 5 minutes

Hi everyone, this is Tom Hallett from the Learn Grow Succeed Podcast. 

Lifelong learning is critical to development, for you as a leader, and for your team. It enables growth and fosters creativity. 

It’s good to devote time to learningnew skills, new ideas, new ways of working (and leading)but how do you remember everything you learnAnd how do you ensure your team retains everything they learn too? 

There are strategies to ensure what you learn moves from short term memory to long-term and allows you better recall. This process of storing and retrieving knowledge is known as overcoming the forgetting curve which is critical for today’s leader and hence the subject of today’s podcast.  


First, though, if you are new here welcome 

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First, its crucial to know what we mean by the forgetting curve You may have already heard of it, but if not, let’s look at the origins of the term. 

Back in 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus experimented to see how we learn and retain information. He developed a formula to show how long items remain in our memory. Some people obviously remember better than others, but the general trend on how long we retain information is the same.  

The resulting graph he produced is called Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. And its steeper than you might think, indicating that we tend to halve our memory of newly-learned knowledge in just a few days or weeks. 

But don’t panic – there are steps you can take to improve your memory retention, and that’s what we’re going to look at in this podcast.  

Many people believe that the key to better memory retention is repetition. The more times you repeat something, the more likely it will stick.  

Is that true? Well, partly.  

Repetition does work short term, such as when you’re cramming for a presentation, but the key here is on the quality of memory representation.  

In other words, what you remember longer will be based on how meaningful that information was in the first place. 

So, the more links you can make between the new information you’re receiving, and things you already knowthe more likely it is that you will remember it longer. 

And that relies on drawing connections. 

Our brains are selective, and they have limited capacity. So, when it comes to deciding what to remember – and what to forget – the brain can be quite choosy. 

And that accelerates the forgetting curve. 

So, when you’re planning your next round of training for your team, remember to make it relevant. The more relevant it isthe more likely it is the team will retain the information. 

There’s a great term for this; it’s called holistic learning.  

As Scott Young said in How to Study Better, Understand More and Actually Get What You Want to Learn, “Instead of trying to pound information into your brain with the hope it will simply fall out when you need it, holistic learning is the process of weaving the knowledge you are learning into everything you already understand”. 

In other words, by providing examples that help the brain make connectionsHere’s how it goes: 

When Im writing blogs, I frequently illustrate a point I’m trying to make with an example; a little side story that perfectly portrays the message I’m trying to get across.   

If this scenario resonates with the reader, the point I’m making – the new knowledge – will be retained longer because it’s something they can relate to: its relevant to their life. 

So, whenever you’re learning something new, look for an opportunity to make it relevant to your own experience. 


Space Your Learning 

Spaced learning is a great way to strengthen memory retention too. By periodically returning to review what’s been learnt, the knowledge is consistently consideredremembered and locked into your longer-term memory 

By embedding knowledge in this way, you also enhance your ability to recall information – useful for putting knowledge into practice. 

Spaced learning can be tailored to suit the needs of you and your team – and can occur at times that work best for you. That might be regular weekly reviews, monthly modules or quarterly audits. 


Mix It Up 

Everyone has their preferred learning style and technique – some people are very visual learners and respond to image-led learning, while others prefer listening or verbal communication and some are kinesthetic – preferring to carry out activities rather than listening to a lecture or watching a video.  

By blending learning and review styles, you’ll allow for different types of learning to occur – making sure that you are offering a method that works for everyone, and making it more likely that your team will absorb the knowledge. 

So, rather than relying on just reading text, mix things up and keep interest levels high by using other formats such as webinars, videos and interaction. Involvement, rather than a passive audience – is the key to memory beating the forgetting curve!  

You could go one step further and harness gamificationas a motivator to learning and retention.  

If you’re not sure what gamification is – its a method that takes the mechanics of games and applies them to other activities, including learning. Because it taps into our natural competitiveness as human beingsyou can optimise this learning style to really motivate your team.  

And because its interactive, it’s easier to engage your team, and consequently, knowledge retention is more likely.  


Create Culture of Learning 

Finally, ask yourself – does your company have a culture of learning? 

One of my clients instigated a training hour every morning for her team. It goes like this –  

Each team member spends the first hour of the working day learning something – it can be reading a manual or book, watching a Tedtalk or video, or anything else the individual is inspired by.  Autonomy is given to each person as to what they choose to learn. 

Building this into thdaily timetable gives value to learning. It makes it standard practice for everyone and provides an opportunity for each team member to take control of what they would like to add to their knowledge bank. 

Additionally, offering frequent training events will enable you to reinforce training and increase the amount of knowledge that’s retained by your team.  

This can be further backed up by workshops, informal sessions and your onboarding process. Once your team realises that learning is embedded in the company’s daily routinethey’re more likely to engage.  


So, to sum up 

There you have the top methods of overcoming the forgetting curve.  

By making learning relevant to individuals, using a blend of learning styles, revisiting learning to reinforce knowledge and creating a culture of learning that your team can invest in, you are on the path to increasing knowledge, and improving retention and recall. 

And that will be of benefit to both individuals and your organisation going forward. 

By the way, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and would like to know more, we have a great webinar called How to Fix The Forgetting Curve and Accelerate Team Performance in 100 Days. You can access it on our website. I’ll drop the link in the transcript for this podcast.  

Add link please! https://excel-communications.com/webinars/ 


Until next time! 


About Excel Communications    


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