Debunking the Curve of Forgetting

You’ve heard this before, I’m sure – maybe even during some training:

“By tomorrow, you’ll have forgotten half of what happened today. In a week, you’ll only remember one or two things. In a year, you’ll have forgotten everything.”

Yikes – way to prime people to forget… I honestly can’t think of anything worse to say to people, short of continuously belittling their intelligence.

Yet you hear it all the time.

Bonus points if they ask you to sign up for their next course. What’d be the point of that, if you’ll forget it all?

Anyway…

The ‘curve of forgetting’ came about from a nice little experiment. Researchers got subjects to memorise a random list of words. Then they tested their recall an hour later, four hours later, a day later, a week later…

Sure enough, the number of words they could remember decreased along a nice curve.

Foolish folks shrug their shoulders and say, what’s the point. They’re going to forget it all anyway, so training is a waste of time.

Smarter folks factor this into their courses. If your learners will only remember one or two things, don’t leave that to chance – design the course so they remember the two things you want.

For everything else, hand out resources, guides and templates.

But the wisest among the course designers?

“Hang on… that applies to rote memorisation of context-free information. That doesn’t apply to my courses!”

They’re right to think that, as it shouldn’t apply.

Yeah, if you’re vomiting data at learners and they don’t see what it means for them, beware the curve of forgetting.

But if your training is practical, useful and meaningful…

… full of stories, group learning and movement…

… they’re going to remember a lot more than just one or two things.

They won’t recall everything…

But I’m thinking about a great course I took in 2014 or so. In ten seconds of thinking on it, I can remember four practical tips from it – and there’s a lot more I don’t remember that I remember, if you follow my thinking on that.

The same goes for my courses. If you’re the right person for the message – the sort who can see the value in what I teach – you’ll remember most of it.

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