The Forgetting Curve

  | August 7, 2013

How do you know if your team is truly learning and applying what they learn in your training programs?

Sending out a summative survey to ask if they liked the training, if the instructor was good, if all their questions were answered, and what else they might like to learn only goes so far. The challenge with every learning event is really measuring what people know and can do. As the Chinese proverb reminds us, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” The same can be said with training—by allowing learners to demonstrate what they learn through scenarios and role-playing, you can help build competency.

Remember the German researcher, Hermann Ebbinghaus, and his experiments on forgetting? Who, you say? If you have ever taken a psychology course or really delved into the science of learning and memory you will recognize the name – or maybe you’ve forgotten it by now…

Ebbinghaus developed the “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve” to show how quickly learning is forgotten.

His experimental results demonstrated a relationship between the forgetting of learned information over time and found that forgetting takes place within 20 minutes of the initial learning.

Within one hour, a person forgets over half of what was originally learned and after 24 hours, almost two-thirds of the previously learned material is forgotten. It must be noted that the research by Ebbinghaus was conducted using meaningless material, however even with the use of new material, the forgetting curve is still applicable; though not quite to the extent Ebbinghaus originally hypothesized.

So how do you, as a trainer, attack the “Forgetting Curve” head on? You keep following up on any training that you conduct with formative (ongoing) assessments. The more learned content is challenged and demonstrated, the greater the retention rate over time, and the greater the mastery of key concepts.

Role-playing is a perfect way to challenge your team to demonstrate what they learned yesterday, last week, or last month (after 30 days, Ebbinghaus showed retention of 21% or less.) Can you afford to spend a good chunk of your budget on training and risk your team not remembering what they need to be successful, improve their performance, and add to your bottom line? Of course not!

For a sales organization (and many others with dispersed teams), what your team knows and how they perform directly translates into personal and organizational success. No matter how much training you conduct, if individuals are not required to demonstrate competency on a weekly basis, they forget much of what they learned.

Pushing out custom scenario-based role-plays keeps everyone on their toes and “sharpens their sword.” Since many industries are changing and growing rapidly, the more competent your team is, the more successful everyone is.

As Sir Francis Bacon so eloquently put it, “Knowledge is Power.” So, make sure you have the power of role-plays in your training programs to ensure your team’s success.

By Dr. Chip Pike, Chief Product Officer of InterviewStream

Dr. Chip Pike has worked in business and education for over 25 years with vast experience in delivering measurable improvements to product development, knowledge management, performance evaluation and technology optimization.

Throughout his career, Chip has served in a variety of leadership roles relating to technology, learning and product development, during which he oversaw day-to-day operations and led significant technological advancements and innovations for the likes of Quality Learning, Community Education Partners (CEP), and Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS).

In addition to his rich educational background, having received a total of four degrees, including his Ph.D. from The University of Miami, Chip brings a passion for technology and research to his role leading the top product innovations at InterviewStream.


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