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Laughing in the Face of Forgetfulness: How to Outsmart the Forgetting Curve

We've all been there - after spending hours, days, or even weeks learning a new skill or attending a training workshop, we feel confident and capable of putting that newfound knowledge to good use. But as time goes by, that once-vibrant knowledge begins to fade, leaving us scratching our heads and wondering where it all went.

This all-too-common phenomenon is known as the Forgetting Curve, and it's an essential concept to understand for anyone invested in learning and personal growth. At Butler Street, we take pride in our training, and even more pride in our commitment to offering Continuous Improvement sessions for each of our educational tracks. And while they are optional, we’ve had more than one client tell us they were well worth the investment.

What is the Forgetting Curve?

The Forgetting Curve illustrates how information retention declines over time if not reinforced through active use or continuous learning. According to 19th-century German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus,

the rate of forgetting is highest shortly after learning something new, with a significant decline occurring within the first few days.


After that initial drop, the forgetting process stabilizes, but knowledge continues to erode over time if not revisited or applied regularly.

Why Skills Get Forgotten:

  • Lack of Practice: The primary reason skills and knowledge are forgotten is simply due to a lack of practice. When learners don't use what they've learned, the neural connections formed during the initial learning process weaken and fade away.

  • Interference: As new information is absorbed, it can interfere with the recall of previously learned material, causing it to be overshadowed and eventually forgotten.

  • Retrieval Failure: If learners don't actively retrieve information from memory, the connections between neurons weaken, making it difficult to access that knowledge later on.

  • Irrelevance: When learners perceive the acquired skills as irrelevant to their daily lives or work, they are less likely to apply them, leading to the inevitable loss of those skills over time.

The Importance of Continuous Improvement:

The Forgetting Curve highlights a crucial aspect of human learning - retention requires consistent reinforcement. To combat the inevitable decline of knowledge over time, learners must invest in continuous improvement.

Here's why:

  • Enhanced Skill Retention: Continuous improvement strategies, such as regular practice, periodic review sessions, and real-life applications, help learners reinforce their knowledge, leading to better skill retention over the long term.

  • Increased Confidence: This is key! When learners continuously improve their skills, they gain confidence in their abilities. Confidence plays a vital role in encouraging learners to use their skills effectively and tackle new challenges with enthusiasm.

  • Adaptability and Growth: In today's fast-paced world, skills become obsolete quickly. Continuous improvement ensures that learners stay up-to-date with the latest developments in their field, fostering adaptability and growth.

  • Improved Problem-Solving: Applying learned skills in different scenarios helps learners grasp the underlying principles better. This facilitates improved problem-solving abilities as learners can draw on a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Strategies for Continuous Improvement:

  1. Regular Practice (or more accurately – ROLE Practice): To counteract the Forgetting Curve, learners must engage in regular practice. Whether it's through practical exercises, simulations, or real-world projects, practice reinforces learning and embeds the skills in long-term memory.

  2. Spaced Repetition (with your Accountability Partner): Spaced repetition involves revisiting learned material at increasing intervals. By spacing out review sessions, and working with an accountability partner for reinforcement and support, learners can reinforce knowledge more effectively and retain it for more extended periods.

  3. Active Learning (Perseverance): Passive learning, like reading or listening, is prone to forgetfulness. Active learning methods, such as discussions, debates, and problem-solving sessions, promote deeper engagement and knowledge retention.

  4. Real-Life Application (Progressive Improvement Over Postponed Perfection): Encouraging learners to apply their skills in real-life situations solidifies their understanding and ensures the knowledge remains relevant and usable.

The Forgetting Curve serves as a stern reminder of the importance of continuous improvement in the learning process. As learners, we must actively engage with our knowledge and regularly apply our skills to ensure they remain ingrained in our minds. By investing in continuous improvement, we not only combat the effects of the Forgetting Curve but also foster personal and professional growth. As the great philosopher Confucius once said,

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

Let us embrace this wisdom and strive to apply what we learn continually, so our knowledge remains a powerful tool in our hands throughout our journey of lifelong learning. Here is a great place to start, and if you'd like to discuss options that include leader-led virtual training or workshops, our mission is to help companies and their people grow, We are here to help.


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