Hermann Ebbinghaus – Forgetting Curve – Learning Curve
Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist born in 1850 and credited with discovering the “Forgetting Curve”, the “Learning Curve” and “Spaced Learning”.
Despite the work of Hermann Ebbinghaus being more than 100-years old, it stills forms the basis of much of what we know about how the brain learns. His work was described as “heroic and the single most brilliant investigation in the history of psychology”.
Ebbinghaus was able to prove in a series of experiments that the human brain rapidly forgot what it had just been taught. He mapped this degradation of memory on a curve – The Forgetting Curve. The image below is a representation of the Forgetting Curve, illustrating that in the first 24 hours the brain retained just c.40% of the content that it was exposed to. Perhaps most significantly after about 30 minutes the brain will only have retained 50% of the content!
Is it any wonder then that the corporate training industry struggles to show material ROI on training interventions that are not supported with an effective strategy for knowledge retention?
Ebbinghaus also discovered how to arrest the Forgetting Curve with the use of spaced learning or interval learning. Whereby a subject is revisited at regular intervals and the retention of that subject matter is not only higher but lasts considerably longer.
Curiously, despite this well proven theory, schools do not practice spaced-learning. Preferring instead to favour a linear approach to training with students ‘cramming; for exams over a short period of time. I suspect that the rationale being that much of the content is only required to be retained for a short period of time sufficient for the student to pass an exam. It is unlikely that a student will be required to revisit calculus post the exam.
Interestingly, spaced learning takes longer than cramming so unless a spaced learning strategy has been followed over a protracted period of time, cramming will prove a more effective strategy to a student taking an exam. Spaced learning however delivers long-term deeper retention of knowledge and suits the workplace environment where this knowledge is likely to be called upon in the future and in the case of Regulated firms is a legal requirement that the knowledge is maintained.
Clever Nelly from Elephant’s don’t forget wouldn’t exist without the pioneering work of Herman Ebbinghaus. Nelly uses a combination of spaced-learning, self-testing, repetition and gamification to guarantee that what you train your employees they lean and retain.
Professor John Dunlosky of Kent State University wrote a great paper on the most effective learnings strategies for students studying to pass exams in the US. We have written a synopsis if Professor Dunlosky’s work titled “Brain Glue” and a free copy can be had from our website.