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The Forgetting Curve

Most of us has heard the phrase “In one ear and out the other” referring to not listening. Sometimes we feel like this ourselves the day after attending a training course and struggle to remember what you learned. You are not alone. Unless we consciously do something to retain newly acquired information, we’ll forget it in a matter of days.


As described by the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, we start losing memory within days. Retained memory requires consistent material review and practice.

Ebbinghaus’ experimental method consisted of conducting a series of extensive tests on himself. He created hundreds of three-letter words, or “nonsense syllables” as he called them. He then tried to memorize lists made of these words and determined for how long he could remember them after different time intervals. He plotted his results in a graph that we know today as the forgetting curve.

Ebbinghaus found that the forgetting curve starts off very steep as the amount of retained knowledge drops dramatically soon after we acquire new information with most of the forgetting occurring within the first hour of learning. After a day or two, we typically forget around 75% of what we have learned and without additional work we can forget most of the content of a course, for instance. As the curve shows, without additional work you could find it difficult to recall the course material after a week.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve (Definition + Examples)

Have you ever taken a course and already the next day felt like you forgot most of what you’ve learned? That’s not surprising. Unless we consciously do something to retain newly acquired information, we’ll forget it in a matter of days. This tendency is described by the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve.



What is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve?

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is a graphical representation of the forgetting process. The curve demonstrates the declining rate at which information is lost if no particular effort is made to remember it. The forgetting curve was defined in 1885 by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) in his book Memory.


Ebbinghaus was the first psychologist who systematically studied memory and learning. He recorded his findings mathematically in an attempt to discover patterns of forgetting and memory retention.


Ebbinghaus’ experimental method, like that of many of his peers, consisted of conducting a series of extensive tests on himself. He created hundreds of three-letter words, or “nonsense syllables” as he called them, like “wid”, “zof”, and “qax.” The psychologist then tried to memorize lists made of these words and determined for how long he could remember them after different time intervals. He plotted his results in a graph that we know today as the forgetting curve.


Rate of forgetting

Ebbinghaus found that the forgetting curve is exponential in nature. It starts off very steep—the amount of retained knowledge drops dramatically soon after we acquire new information. In fact, most of the forgetting occurs within the first hour of learning. And that’s not all. After a day or two, we typically forget around 75% of what we have learned.

Without any additional work, we will quickly forget most of the content of a course, for instance. A week later, it will be as if the learning had never occurred at all.


According to Ebbinghaus, the basic forgetting rate doesn’t differ significantly between individuals. Still, this rate can be influenced to a certain extent by factors such as:


· prior knowledge of the subject

· the complexity of the material

· meaningfulness of the information

· the way the information is presented

· individual capability

· physiological factors including lack of sleep and hunger

· psychological factors like stress and anxiety


Ebbinghaus showed that repeating and reviewing the acquired knowledge helps strengthen our memory. Ebbinghaus’ study clear pattern that the initial repetition of the information should ideally occur within the first day of learning.


While an initial review of what we’ve learned certainly helps us remember the details in the short term, reviewing multiple times will enable us to retain them for much longer. Each time we revisit the same material, we retain larger chunks of information. As a result, the forgetting decreases while memory retention increases.


In order to successfully retain the material in our long-term memory we have to periodically review the information. Research indicates that a minimum of three reviews is necessary for obtaining the best results.

How does this pertain to the medical field? Consider the structure of most courses.

  • Hour long lectures with slides video and pictures…so much like when your parent read stories to you at bedtime, you struggle to absorb the material while yawning. This is not always because the material is boring but because the tome of the voice is normally at the same pitch. We miss some of the information while looking for coffee.

  • Human Scanning is a valuable tool to understand anatomy while leaning ultrasound guidance for medical procedures, but can you connect the dots back to the lecture material.

  • Rotating to another procedure

Does it help to move on before you do enough to retain the material? How can we improve material retention?

  • Participant interaction – add several pop quizzes or, a quick review of the past few slides, and in lecture scanning or video to increase attention by adding visual interest.

  • Adding practice simulation to the course material. Some courses offer simulators without required practice for course certificate. “See 1, Do 3” for association by practice lengthens memory retention.

  • For inhouse training programs – add required hands-on practice with anatomical simulators

  • Pre-test and post-test practice comparison – How can you assess the success of a course if you do not compare the beginning skill to the ending skill.

Valkyrie MiniSim offers cost effective skills training and practice and can facilitate and optimize memory retention.


For more information on Valkyrie's line of Trainers Contact Us today or Visit our Online Shop.


References:

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve (Definition + Examples)

Forgetting curve - Wikipedia


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