Richard Maun – The Forgetting Curve

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The Forgetting Curve

25 January 2015

How good are you at remembering things? Can you remember your to-do list, without looking? What did you have for dinner a week last Thursday? Personally, I have no idea. Chips? Lasagne? Raspberries? Who knows!

Our brains are great at filtering information to prevent us from becoming overwhelmed from all the stimuli zinging in to us. However, sometimes it’s good to be aware of just how much we can forget.

The term ‘The Forgetting Curve’ has been attributed to the graphed results of a study into memory and recall, conducted by Herman Ebbinghaus in 1895. His research was based on giving people lists of unrelated ‘nonsense’ words and testing their ability to remember them. We need to be clear that this was a specific piece of research, and yet the findings are relevant to us, when we are delegating work, setting up training sessions, transferring knowledge and thinking about our capacity to recall information flung at us in a hurry!

The graph shows that within 20 minutes about 40% of the memorised list was lost, after 24 hours around 70% was lost, after a month 80% had been lost.*

The implication is clear – that our ability to recall things accurately reduces quickly if the information is not reinforced, and that also we tend to underestimate the rate of this decline.

To counter this effect we can harness the benefits of repetition. Research shows that repetition cements in learning and reduces the tendency for our memory to drift away from the facts and make up content to fill the gaps.

In order to be more successful in our organisations we can use coaching approaches to daisy-chain useful packets of learning, make sure key tasks are written down and repeat details to ensure people really did hear them correctly.

We are all likely to slide down the Forgetting Curve at some point and when we do we can remember the name of Ebbinghaus, who helped us to pay attention to repetition and the benefits of revisiting new learning.

What will you be not forgetting this week?

Next week: Delayed Gratification



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