Think of the last time you had to remember a grocery list, the names of a group of people you just met, or the directions for how to use the office coffee maker. You probably realized that your short-term memory has its limits. Numbers, names, or process steps can disappear from our minds in under a minute.
To combat this, we often repeat what we need to remember over and over again until it sticks. At least until we believe it’s stuck. Research shows that memories of newly acquired material often halve in a matter of days. This rate of forgetting varies from person to person, and it depends on a number of factors, including the difficulty level of what we’re trying to learn, how meaningful the information is to us, how it’s presented, and physiological influencers, such as stress and lack of sleep. Regardless, we all have what is known as a “forgetting curve.”
The concept of a forgetting curve comes from a somewhat dubious study Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted—on himself—in 1885. During the study, Ebbinghaus attempted to memorize nonsense syllables, such as “WID” and “ZOF” by repeatedly testing himself after various time periods and recording the results. The further apart those time periods were, the less he remembered. Ebbinghaus plotted the results on a graph, creating a forgetting curve that illustrated how newly learned knowledge is quickly lost if we don’t consciously review it over time. Despite the limited scope of his study, researchers have found his results to be mostly on the mark.
It’s important to note that learning goes beyond mere memorization. People need to recognize relationships, understand cause and effect, and accurately apply concepts; but before they can do any of that, they need to recall the facts.
That’s why developers of online training are always looking for ways to combat the forgetting curve. They want their learners to remember the policy or process they are trying to instill. Several strategies have been developed to facilitate the processing of information from short-term to long-term memory and avoid cognitive overload. Some have been highly successful, some misused, and some deemed misguided. Let’s take a look at a few to determine how to turn memories into learning.
SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE
At some point during your education, someone may have told you that you are a visual learner, or perhaps a verbal learner. Maybe you’ve come to believe you are a kinesthetic learner, which means you prefer to use your body, hands, and sense of touch. The truth is, the notion of learning styles has largely been debunked.