How We Learn: We Are Good At Forgetting

01 Jul
2020

We are good at forgetting, sometimes forgetting 60-70% within one day of a learning event. So dumping a lot of information on learners is a bad idea. This is the big challenge of one-time learning events, where we separate work from learning. 

Forgetting does have a purpose, it eliminates unnecessary details from memory,  increasing creative problem solving and making it easier to spot abstract patterns and draw general conclusions based on our experiences. The more we remember details of a problem the less likely we are to solve it.

In the WSJ article Why Forgetfulness Might Actually Help You, University of Cambridge cognitive neuroscience professor Michael C. Anderson, says that forgetting allows us to eliminate interference from competing thoughts. 

“Retrieval-induced forgetting makes it easier to access memories that get used a lot, and more difficult to retrieve memories that compete with them.” 

“Forgetting can make way for breakthrough thinking,” according to Benjamin Storm, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “One of the biggest obstacles to thinking of something new and different is our old ideas, our current perspective and things we already know. Forgetting is at the heart of getting around that.”
According to research published by Dr. Betsy Sparrow at Columbia University titled Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips when learners are confident they know where to find something, they intentionally learn less, freeing up cognitive memory for critical thinking, creativity and innovation.

See how we design content to address forgetting.

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What is A Learning Journey? Since 1995 I’ve collected a vast amount of information from learning leaders, educators, scientists, etc. on the topic of learning and development. Consolidating these notes collected from conversations, books, conferences, articles and white papers, and sharing my learning journey as A Learning Journey made sense. Thus the series was born. I hope you find the information valuable.

Craig Dadoly
author

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