What good does it do to provide learning opportunities to employees, clients, or students if nothing is done to maximize learner retention and reduce the Forgetting Curve?
There are actual strategies and considerations that can be used and applied to ensure learning takes place but they are often overlooked. They are overlooked because the focus is on providing training rather than ensuring learning takes place.
Training is often a check in a box that was done to mitigate liabilities and to pass off ownership of learning.
What is the Forgetting Curve?
The Forgetting Curve was developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. He collected data regarding learning and retention of concepts and then hypothesized that memory of the learning begins to decline soon after the learning occurred.
In his hypothesis, Mr. Ebbinghaus suggested that we lose a great deal, if not most, of what we learned within 24 hours of the original learning. Some experts claim that we lose 90-95% of all learning within the first 24-hours without a review.
OMGeee! What does this mean for instructional designers, training developers, professors, and teachers across the globe? It means that we must be strategic in the design of the learner experience.
A talking head that drones on for an hour and expects learning to have occurred is obsolete. I don’t know what my old college professors think about the Forgetting Curve or if they care but as cultivators of learning, they should care.
Every organization around the world that provides learning opportunities should care. Training costs money and companies should expect a maximum return on their investment for training and educating employees.
There should be checklists, design guides, and step-by-step pdfs galore reminding everyone in training and education how to dramatically reduce the Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve.
I mean, it’s simple. It doesn’t take much. You just have to know how to reduce the Forgetting Curve and build some strategies into your training design.
Before we talk about how to overcome the Forgetting Curve, let’s discuss the Primacy/Recency Effect. In my professional career, I have only come across one individual who knows what this is. And, he was a network marketer who was also a lawyer.
He wasn’t even in education, but he knew about Primacy/Recency. This is shocking to me. At a minimum, every teacher, professor, instructional designer, training developer, and trainer in the world should know what the Primacy/Recency Effect is.
Dr. Sousa provides a great explanation of the Primacy/Recency Effect in his book, How the Brain Learns. If you have the time to check it out, I definitely recommend it! There’s no benefit to me for recommending it either. If you don’t feel up to reading a book on how the brain learns, you could simply type Primacy Recency Effect into your search engine.
In a nutshell, the Primacy/Recency Effect tells us that learners learn best what they hear first (Primacy) and second-best what they learn last (Recency).
In the typical talking head learning scenario where the presenter speakers for 1-hour, the learner has two prime learning episodes. At the beginning and end of the presentation.
All of that great content in the middle might have been learned or it might not have been.
Prime Learning Real Estate
This tells us that the prime real estate for learning is at the beginning and end of a learning episode, right? In live training, what often comes during the very BEST time to learn? Thinking..thinking…thinking.
Ah, there it is. The light bulb just went off, didn’t it? The beginning of most live training is often stacked with introductions and housekeeping items. Heck, in classrooms across the US, the best learning time is often spent on taking roll or on warm-ups so that the teacher can take roll or do other housekeeping items.
Let me ask you, “is this the best use of the BEST learning time for your learners?” I think not, and I hope you agree with me.
Now, that you know there are prime learning times, let’s move the most important things you want your learners to learn into one of the two prime learning spots. There are other ways to share housekeeping and bio information. If it is critical to cover put that type of content in one of the downtimes of learning where the learning naturally dwindles.
Better yet, put it on a handout and distribute it to read before the training or during a break.
Create More Prime Learning Episodes
Hey, here’s an idea for you. You can and should create more prime learning episodes within your trainings. You are not limited to two! Can you say, “hallelujah?”
You can create more learning opportunities with more Primacy/Recency learning periods by chunking your content.
Chunking simply means breaking up your content into smaller chunks, such as 10-20 minutes. Simply, break up your content into these smaller, bite-sized chunks and add in an activity. The activity gives your learner’s brain a short break to process what it just learned. It also provides some entertainment for the brain by bringing in something new and novel.
The activity can be 1 minute, 60 minutes, or somewhere in between. What’s important is that you use activities between content chunks. After the activity, you can deliver a new chunk of content with another set of Primacy/Recency prime learning episodes.
Check this out, if you took a one-hour training and divided it into 3 chunks with activities, you would have 6 prime learning episodes instead of 2, which means more learning!
So, the Primacy/Recency Effect is one way to ensure you are maximizing learner retention of content, and the Forgetting Curve can help you fight learning loss even more.
Fighting the Forgetting Curve
Look at this image again. You can see that you can reduce learning loss with distributed practice or reviews.
Just like we learned with the Primacy/Recency Effect, instructional designers, training developers, professors, and teachers can help the brain process and retain learning with a strategically placed review every 10 to 20 minutes throughout the learning period.
We can also see that we can help learners retain even more content with a review 24 hours later and again in 7 days and in 30 days.
When I was a school teacher, I actually put notes into my planner to review content within 24 hours and again in 7 days and in 30 days to help my students remember the information that I had taught them. This was especially important for state-tested materials. At the time, I didn’t know about the Primacy/Recency Effect, so I often accomplished the review in the form of a warm-up.
Later as a training developer and trainer, I struggled to figure out how to accomplish this distributed practice once the training was over.
Distributed Practice Ideas
There isn’t a one size fits all solution for dealing with distributed practice. But, here are a few ideas to consider.
You can build your trainings or lesson plans to chunk content into 20-minute or fewer buckets. Then, plan activities at the end of every chunk. This by itself can make a big impact on learning and retention. Don’t stop here though. Be bold and do something different.
What about building in some review content into a survey or providing a one-pager one-day post-training?
What about sending out a short video from one of your executive leaders 7 days post-training? You could highlight the most important concepts learned and remind learners why that information is important to the company.
One company I supported as a learning consultant brought their participants back together 30 days post-training. In that session, they discussed how each participant had applied concepts learned in their work or with their team.
Another colleague I know created and used Doodly videos to send out as topic reviews post-training.
If a video is too big of an ask, a simple email covering key content could suffice.
You can be creative in how you get the review information in front of your learners. Maximize learner retention and reduce the forgetting curve by building in reviews every 10-20 minutes, within 24 hours, and again 7 and 30 days later.
Imagine the ROI your training could have with some simple strategic reviews added to your content delivery!
Try It & Share It!
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