Overcoming the Forgetting Curve: Shifting to Continuous Learning


Most corporate training initiatives isolate knowledge from work. You are taught something in a formal course, then you go back to work and try to apply what you learned. And we all know what happens . . . you forget.

The forgetting curve shows that the largest memory loss occurs over the first days. This becomes a big problem when you isolate knowledge from what needs to be done in a learn-first-then-work learning model.

What if learning must take place in an isolated event? How do we counteract “firehose” learning and the forgetting curve?

 What is needed is a strategy that overcomes the forgetting curve. That strategy involves a shift to a continuous learning model that gets learning closer to the point when the knowledge is actually needed. There are two parts to this strategy. 

Part 1: We know from research that effective learning takes place over time. Ebbinghaus’s research identified that spaced repetition increases long-term retention. A large number of studies and experiments over the years have supported this, some concluding that spaced repetition can increase long-term retention by 200%. Reinforcement of learning-over-time limits forgetting and optimizes performance and should be a key part of the learning strategy. This can be effectively achieved by creating micro-learning, or brief refresher learning bursts, delivered frequently post event. Spaced learning (especially for the first thirty days after a learning event) gives the learner time to process the information and encode it into long term memory. This ensures that the learning lasts beyond just the learning event, carries into the workplace, and positively impacts retention.  

How do we leverage the strength of spaced learning? Through the use of microlearning. Brief learning experiences of 3-10 minutes often be based on one-two learning objectives will reinforce learning and support performance. Content elements include graphics, animations, simulations, stories, scenarios, video, audio narration, interactivity, decision making and knowledge checks.

lesslearningatpointofneed Part 2: The design and reusability of the brief learning experiences allows us to leverage them for in-the-workflow learning at the moment of need. Giving the learner quick, easy access to critical, brief, just-in-time resources allows them to get beyond the moment when they get stuck, and get  back in the flow. It’s a powerful tool that helps the learner handle the uncommon situations and exceptions that occur while working. An important benefit is that less training is required closer to the point of need as we move learning closer to work.