Five Learning Methods to Flatten the Forgetting Curve
Picture this: you learn something new— a colleague’s spouse’s name at the office Christmas party, the NFL teams in each division, your best friend’s coffee order. Then, something happens. Suddenly, the information you knew an hour ago is a little fuzzy. It’s right on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite access it. A few hours later, it’s completely gone, as if you never learned it in the first place.
This. Is. Normal. You see, our brains do something really interesting when they perceive information input that is, dare we say, not that important…
They just toss it out! That’s right, our brains forget on purpose, protecting us from information overload by discarding data that we don’t often utilize or that isn’t related to that which we already know and regularly recall.
Being unable to summon information that you know is in there *somewhere* is nothing to worry about (despite what WebMD is telling you). But, just because forgetting is normal doesn’t mean you have to be a victim of chronic forgetfulness. We’ve broken down five tried-and-true methods in this article to help you flatten the forgetting curve. But before we dive into that, let’s rewind a bit and discuss, what exactly is the forgetting curve?
German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus first introduced this idea in 1885. By testing his own memory over various intervals of time, Ebbinghaus developed a mathematical formula to demonstrate the rate at which information is forgotten over time when no effort is made to retain it (such as by reviewing the information or building mental connections to it).
From the Ebbinghous forgetting curve, we’ve learned that people forget on a predictable slope. The data shows that one hour after learning something, most people will forget 50% of what they learned. After 24 hours, they will have forgotten 70%. As time goes on, the information they once knew continues to fade away.
But, that doesn’t mean you have to accept forgetfulness as an incurable ailment.
Here are five learning methods to combat the forgetting curve:
1. Knowledge Sharing
There’s a reason teachers put students into work groups, and college students are encouraged to seek out a study group: sharing information with others reinforces knowledge. When students must regurgitate what they’ve learned in order to teach others, or simply for the sake of discussion, their own retention and understanding improves.
Try incorporating these knowledge-sharing tips:
- Start a study group! You’ll learn new things by discussing important topics aloud with your classmates
- Play ‘teacher’! Help yourself remember important topics by teaching them to someone else
- If you have to study alone, try thinking out loud
2. Take Advantage of YOUR Learning Style
Hands-on learning has been shown to be the most successful way to retain Information long-term. According to Whatfix.com, “When learners practice doing a task, they retain 75% of their knowledge, compared to only 10% when they read instructions.”
However, learning is not one-size-fits-all. Some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others learn best from being hands-on.
When students acquire new information that has been delivered in a non-optimal way, according to their preferred learning style, they must act quickly to ensure that the new information doesn’t become stale. Time spent waiting for an opportunity to put the knowledge into action increases the likelihood that they will forget it.
Take advantage of the approach that clicks for YOU and find ways to incorporate that style of learning into your study time. If you’re a kinesthetic (that is, a hands-on) learner, sitting in a lecture hall for two hours will not benefit you in the same way that an engaging, physical activity would. While some of these discomforts are unavoidable, there are ways to supplement your learning in a more engaging way.
Individualize your learning experience with these tips:
- Talk to your teacher about additional opportunities to learn, such as helping them with research or signing up for a lab to accompany the lecture
- Take our quiz to receive personalized study tips based on your unique personality type!
- If you’re an auditory learner, use mnemonic devices, rhymes or songs to help you remember information
- If you’re a kinesthetic learner, memorize important facts using hands-on learning aids, like drawing pictures, playing games and making flashcards
- If you’re an emotional learner, look for ways to make personal connections with the material
3. Give Focused Note-Taking a Try
While participating in Focused Note-Taking, students concentrate on what is mentioned in the text while making connections with things they already know into their notes. This not only helps them learn more effectively, but retain the new information through these associations. Taking focused notes is a tried-and-true method to absorb and retain new information. Visit this blog post for more information about Focused Note-Taking and tips to help you incorporate it into your study habits.
Distractions. Are. EVERYWHERE. And with all the technology in the world at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to let yourself get sucked in.
If that weren’t enough, studies show that attention spans are shorter than ever. According to an article published by Time Magazine, which featured a study conducted by Microsoft Corp., the average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since the mobile revolution began in 2000. That’s a shorter attention span than a goldfish!
“Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media,” the report read.
This approach is successful because, unlike long lectures and traditional classroom settings, it is built around a person’s learning cycle. It takes into account students’ short attention spans, delivering information in brief, bite-sized pieces that typically last less than five minutes. These tiny chunks of new information allow learners to focus on one subject at a time, rather than being overwhelmed with information, which encourages increased retention. In fact, according to Whatif.com, “research has shown that microlearning can improve knowledge retention by as much as 80% while improving learner engagement by 50%.”
Give these tips a try to implement microlearning:
- Utilize your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” feature to help rid yourself of distractions—at least for a little while!
- Keep those creative juices flowing by breaking up study time into smaller blocks of time and giving yourself breaks to do something energizing
- Don’t focus on the due date. Instead, give yourself mini deadlines to help combat procrastination
- Download an app to help you chunk your time into focused stretches and breaks
- When you complete a task, reward yourself with something you enjoy. Then move on to the next item on your list!
5. Spaced Learning
Spaced learning is based on the idea that learning improves when knowledge is repeated at regular intervals. It consists of three rigorous teaching periods separated by 10-minute breaks or distracting material that is unrelated to the learning result. These three periods focus on presenting the material, recalling the material, and understanding the material. The interval between input sessions allows learners to consolidate the information and integrate the knowledge into their memories.
The first input session, known as the “present” phase, is a classroom or video lecture. After a short break, students begin the “recall” phase. In this session, learners are given easy tests or activities to help them remember what they have studied. Following another short break, students apply what they’ve learned to a problem or assignment in the “understand” phase.
Implement ‘Spaced Learning’ into your study routine with these tips:
- Set a timer for a set amount of time, then go into focused mode. (That means put that cell phone away!) Read your textbook or watch a lecture until the timer goes off. Make sure you take notes!
- Allow yourself to take a 10-minute break. Stand up, stretch, get a snack or turn on your favorite song and dance it out.
- Come back to your desk, take out a blank piece of paper, and “brain dump”: list as many details as you can remember from the reading or video. Revisit your notes, and with a different color, fill in your brain dump with any details you missed. Repeat as many times as needed, taking breaks in between.
- Help yourself to seal in the new knowledge by making connections—either to yourself, to another text, or to something in the world. These connections can help you recall information more readily!