Turn the Forgetting Curve into a Retention Strategy

The forgetting curve is a mainstay of learning lore: Learners forget X% (always a large number) of what they learn in a day or a week.

The forgetting curve is the legacy of Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist who did groundbreaking research in the 1880s on how time and repetition affect people’s ability to remember information.

There’s a lot about his experiments that differs from conventional learning and retention — but his work is still very relevant to learning and development (L&D) professionals who strive to create training that learners will retain for a long time.

And an understanding of Ebbinghaus, the forgetting curve, and the foibles of human memory and recall can combine into a knowledge retention strategy that OttoLearn’s developers call applied forgetting.

We have to forget most of what we learn.

Hand tossing a crumpled paper into a wire trash bin that is full of similarly crumpled pieces of paper.

We learn — or encounter — a blizzard of information every waking hour. The vast majority of what we are constantly hearing or reading is irrelevant. We don’t need to know it for our work, our personal development, or even to satisfy our curiosity.

Lucky for us, our brains work to help us filter out the salient bits of information — and toss the rest onto the trash heap.

We can help our brains with that process. And OttoLearn has figured out how to help learners identify and retain the most important content from their training.

Relevant content sticks

When Ebbinghaus tested his memory, he used groups of nonsense syllables. Decades of research since has found that that makes a difference — the more relevant and meaningful content is to a learner, the more “sticky” it is: The learner remembers it longer.

OttoLearn uses this principle strategically to ensure that each and every learner gets only the most relevant training content. Otto’s adaptive training algorithms measure what a learner knows, based on past performance. The algorithms also look at what a learner needs to know — based on the mastery goals in their profile.

Then, Otto targets content to that learner designed to fill knowledge gaps and review key information. Relevant, targeted content is a key element of a knowledge retention strategy.

Spaced repetition works

Spaced repetition is a crucial ally in the applied forgetting campaign. Our brains are quick to understand that information that comes up over and over again, especially if it appears in multiple formats or contexts, is worth holding on to.

Repeated study of content helps it stick. Conversely, if information came up once in a course and never again, the brain filters it out and forgets it.

Researchers Tabibian et al. found that the ability to recall information depends on the number of repetitions as well as the time interval between repetitions and the elapsed time since the last review. Extensive research has shown that infrequent, but well-timed, reviews of information can make long-term recall even stronger than repetitions that are too close together or too frequent — and far stronger than one-time exposure.

Otto’s carefully spaced repetition intervals build on this principle. Using the forgetting curve — and data from individual learners’ performance — OttoLearn is able to calculate when the ability to recall a salient fact or process is starting to fade. And Otto jumps in with a strategically timed refresher, reinforcing learning and building long-term knowledge retention.

Context matters

Smiling barista holding and clicking on a tablet while at work.

Learners are more likely to recall information they’ve learned within a relevant context. One way to do that is to move learning into the workflow. With its 2-minute Mastery Moments and mobile-first design, OttoLearn fits easily into learners’ workflow. Learners can (and do) take short learning breaks throughout their workday.

Even more than that, Otto offers instantaneous performance support for quick refreshers or look-ups while they are working — learning reinforcement at the moment of need. Our microlearning platform handles both your knowledge retention strategy and performance support tool needs from our robust app with ease.

OttoLearn creates context for learning in another key way — within the actual content. Otto is chock-full of Activities that ask learners to apply information, using scenarios that they could conceivably encounter on the job. For every piece of information, every concept or term, OttoLearn uses several angles to test recall and retention.

The varied Activities and targeted content ensure that learners are challenged and that every training session is different. The gamified training Activities keep your learners engaging with the training content over and over again. And each session provides context that solidifies learning and retention.

Challenge your learners with applied forgetting

Don’t be defeated by the forgetting curve. Put applied forgetting to work for you — along with all of the other strategies in OttoLearn’s arsenal. Contact us today and learn how to make the forgetting curve a strategic part of your learning and retention strategy.

  • For learning content to enter and remain in a learner’s long-term memory, the learner needs multiple exposures to the content. Long-term encoding “needs opportunities for rehearsal and repetition,” Jan Breckwoldt et al. wrote in a study on mass vs. spaced learning.
  • Repeated exposures alone are not as helpful as spaced repetitions that ask learners to recall and apply information — and especially when learners have to use that information in different ways, many studies have found (for example Rohrer, Lin et al., and Bjork and Bjork).
  • The ability to remember information depends on the number of times a learner encounters it and the interval between repetitions, according to Tabibian et al.

Intrinsic

Extrinsic

Access to knowledge or performance support tools

Achieving a worthwhile or meaningful goal

Achieving a reward — a grade, a badge, points, a prize

Receiving an unexpected reward

Contributing to improving a project or a product

Wanting to be perceived as a team player, wanting to be liked

Improving performance or effectiveness relative to own past performance

Improving performance or effectiveness relative to coworkers; “winning” or being the best

Knowing enough to avoid making mistakes and do better work

Losing status or levels within a gamified framework as the result of making a mistake

Feeling of completing a task, accomplishing a goal, finishing a project

Doing the “right” thing — following rules or norms, being ethical

  1. Is the corporation’s compliance training program well designed?

    Prosecutors will look at whether the training is designed to prevent and detect wrongdoing and whether management is enforcing the program by means of training, incentives and discipline.

  2. Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith? In other words, is the program being implemented effectively?

    Prosecutors are expected to directly investigate whether a program is merely a “paper program” or a sincere effort. Evidence of a company-wide commitment to ethics and compliance, promoted by senior and middle management, is needed.

  3. Does the corporation’s compliance training program work in practice?

    Good intentions and training don’t count if they don’t work; in assessing whether the program “works in practice,” prosecutors will look at how the suspected misconduct was detected, what the company’s investigation process is and how the company is trying to correct the problem.

Microlearning delivers small, narrowly focused bits of information.

Adaptive microlearning tailors that content to each learner’s knowledge gaps and learning goals, ensuring the training is relevant.

Continuous adaptive microlearning conditions each learner to engage with relevant training every day — for just a few minutes.

Current Rank

Previous Rank

Technology

1

1

Personalization/adaptive delivery

2

3

Artificial intelligence

3

new

Learning analytics

4

2

Collaborative/social learning

5

5

Micro learning

6

new

Learning experience platforms

7

7

Virtual and augmented reality

8

10

Mobile delivery

9

4

Consulting more deeply with the business

10

6

Showing value

11

new

Performance support

12

11

Neuroscience/cognitive science

13

13

Video

14

9

Curation

15

12

Developing the L&D function

No items found.

When people have a question or don’t know how to do something, what do they do?

Whip out a smartphone and look for information. What they don’t do is sign up for a 1-hour seminar.

Microlearning brings corporate eLearning into the modern paradigm. Microlearning describes eLearning content that is:

  • Narrowly focused
  • Short
  • Available on demand
  • Mobile-first or mobile-friendly

It must answer a question, meet an immediate need, or help the learner solve a problem.

In the City of BigTown, there was held a conference,
One of training professionals — those making a difference.
A difference to company ROI by delivering training,
From many perspectives — like Manufacturing.
And, too, there were call centers, colleges, corporate sectors,
Each chiming in about outcomes and metrics.
All shipped their training through an LMS platform,
But were desperately seeking true training reform.

Antonio

One was Antonio, who hated the manuals —
For his product revisions and updates, they were annual.
Plus his printing costs? Oh, they were crazy!
And he truly believed that franchisors were hazy.

None knew how to train in an effective way,
"There’s too much to read, to do!” they’d all say.
For there were many levels of training to assign,
From the top at head office, down to those on the front-line.

Trainers Helen and Abinash nodded, “We agree!”
Said Feng, "Paper and handbooks? Just another dead tree.
On the job, not everyone will have the info they need,
Because the content changes and updates they never did read.
They never learned the content added along the way
That may apply to their region or division today.
Plus, in the field with team members in many locations,
Mobile-first training would make a stronger foundation!

Said Sales trainer Jane of her PDFs stored online,
“They’re rarely revisited after onboarding time.
I need content delivered in snack-sized bites,
And the ability to test them until they get it right.”
Ursula
chimed in, "Onboarding’s a pain for new hires,
With most feeling like their hair is on fire!
Plus, promoted reps must refresh what they know
To be properly prepared to perform their new role."

"I deal with compliance," sighed Manal the Banker.
Abinash nodded, Frank turned to thank her,
For she’d raised the ugliest concern of them all —
That certifications aren’t based on year-long recall.
“To maintain the standards and follow each rule,
We need more than one test that comes out of the blue.
When it comes to things like health & safety, it's a game-changer
Because if their training is lacking, they could be in danger.”

Antonio

Continuing he asked, “Could training be location-specific?
As learners move through the plant, alerts would be terrific!”
Helen asked who used traditional classroom training
Combined with online to keep interest from waning.
Did they have workshops, seminars, or events,
The kind that take workers away from their desk?
"They learn at that moment, then likely forget —
is there a way to get long-term retainment?”

Rachel had been quiet, she’d said not a word,
When suddenly she leaned in so her voice would be heard.
"We solved these concerns after ditching binders and books —
We use daily drip training and our learners are hooked!
When we update our content, it gets to them faster,
And metrics and KPIs reveal the content 'masters.'
We use OttoLearn for microlearning and we’ve been thrilled,
for all of our training needs — and more — are fulfilled."

So ends our tale of the nine trainers complaining
about the problems they had delivering training.
Training that mattered, with metrics and firm ROI,
Based on data analysis of prime KPIs.
Many problems they shared, with no clear resolution,
Found Agile Microlearning with Otto was the solution!
Microlearning both adaptive and agile saved them from disaster,
Making trainers and trainees learn happily ever after!

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Content Studio

  • Combining the question and activity tabs
  • New WYSIWYG editor which is “inline” with the text
  • Ability to include media (images, video, audio) within activities (question, answers and feedback)
  • Icons to indicate correct answer, position locking, whether or not the answer is visible to learners (active), and override feedback

Recently Released

  • Learner password reset
  • Streamlined data entry into the content studio, by being able to quickly add
  • Numerous small updates and bug fixes
  • Check out our most recent updates and add yourself to be automatically notified when we push updates

Option

Pros

Cons

Seats

  • Super easy to understand
  • Very predictable cost, if you have a specific number of users (eg: employees)
  • Doesn’t differentiate between users that have different volumes.
  • Have to purchase seats for your maximum number of users.‍

Active Users
(Typically the number of users that log in during a month)

  • You don’t need a license for every specific user, you can often only license half of your users (since perhaps only half ever log in during a month)
  • Typically there is a large cost for going over your licensed number of users, which can be incredibly expensive (eg: 5-10x more than your licensed cost)
  • You often have to “play games” as an administrator, not wanting to do a mass course enrollment if you have only have your users licensed in a month

Trend

What It Means

Why It Matters

Adaptive Learning

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Efficiency. Learners learn the material faster because they spend less time on what they already know.

Personalized Learning

Learners can follow a scaffolded learner path or self-direct their learning.

Learners are inquisitive. We all Google for information when we need it, so why lock learners into a particular learning path?

Learners engage the most when they are allowed to deviate from a set path and explore available content.

At the end of the day, as long as each learner reaches their mastery goal, the particular path they took to reach there is unimportant.

Microlearning

Delivering content to the learner in smaller chunks.

Chunking content is important only if it is paired with the ability to search for and find specific content chunks “on demand” and the ability to consume just the chunks a learner needs. With these features, training doubles as a performance support.

Learning Experience (LX) Design

Using science and art to create experiences that help learners fulfill the learning outcomes they desire, in a user-centered and goal-directed way.1

Have you used Google? If so, then you have benefitted from Experience Design (XD): When you search for something, you rarely have to go past the first result.

With good XD, you don’t think about the design;  it “just works.”

With poor XD, your learners will disengage. They’ll say they “don’t have time.” What they are really saying is that they “don’t have time for the poor experience.”

Artificial Intelligence

Typically, when used in relation to L&D, AI actually means “machine learning.”

Machine learning algorithms learn from data and “get smarter” over time.

Have you used Netflix or Amazon recommendations? They are based on machine learning.

The algorithms look at a ton of data, including your past choices and choices made by others who are similar to you, to make predictions as to what you will want to watch or buy.

In L&D, machine learning principles are being integrated in much the same way: to provide recommended content for a learner to consume.

This reduces the burden on training administrators to try to predict or guess what is relevant for each learner. It also provides a more personalized experience for each learner.

Imagine that you are a salesperson, and your training mix subtly and automatically shifts, based on the nature of opportunities in your sales pipeline. You are offered training only on available products that you have not already mastered. That would be a training program that is driven by machine learning.

Learning Analytics

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Use learning analytics to make better decisions by converting data into insights.
The true value is not just in providing more data, more charts, and more graphs. The value is in leveraging AI to search for and surface insights that you’d never think to look for.

Combine the analytics from learners’ performance with key KPIs for the outcomes you desire, and have the analytics engine generate predictions such as, “Learners who reach mastery in the Objection Handling module will close 3.4 percent more deals.”

Now that’s actionable intel.

1 learningexperiencedesign.com

14% of organizations are experimenting with artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning and live chat (up from 6% in 2016)
30% of organizations are using games and simulations (up from 20% in 2016)
Fastest growth segments include continuous learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR)
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The Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Adaptive MicrolearningThe Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Microlearning

Hi Josh,

About a week before I began getting my Ottolearn Mastery Moments, I had a popup window from Adobe appear on my screen as I was working on another project, prompting me to update my version of Flash. We do use Flash, so like an idiot, I clicked on the popup and asked it to start the update—and only then noticed that the url was not an adobe address. Of course, I closed the popup window using the X in the upper corner, which didn’t solve anything. Our IT guys did the best they could for me, but my computer is still compromised, and is being replaced.

Fast forward to Ottolearn and your Online Security for Employees course. After completing several mastery moments, I have now learned what to do with popups like that. This morning, as I restarted my computer again, that same Adobe popup appeared and this time I was ready! I opened task manager and killed that little $%^&^ dead in its tracks.

I know the point of letting us try out OttoLearn as participants was for us to experience the power of this platform from the learner’s point of view. I can tell you that I personally am very grateful for the training you provided to me, and the fact that I was able to let others in my company know how to kill off those nasty virus-carrying popups. Yes, it works. Yes, it’s fun! And yes, I have a true feeling of accomplishment.

I can’t wait for the point at which we can talk more about developing courses for our clients.

Thank you!

Experience

Exp.

High

New accounting rules

Workplace violence & harassment prevention

Low

Framing a basement

Changing a tire

High

Low

Perceived Relevance

No items found.

Retrieval practice is the key to retention.

Your brain wants to be as efficient as possible. Why would it try to encode information for long term storage if it thinks you don’t need it? You need to actually practice retrieving memories (information) in order to have your brain store it in long-term memory.

Spaced retrieval radically improves learning efficiency.

You not only need to practice retrieving information from memory, but you need to wait until you’re on the edge of forgetting it. This is why cramming is so ineffective at generating long-term retention.

Interleaved learning feels strange at first, but dramatically improves retention and skill.

Interleaved learning—mixing up material while learning and practicing, such as mixing up practice activities while learning WHMIS and supervisory skills, will improve your retention of both.

Option

Pros

Cons

User-based
(Seats)

  • Cost predictability. Each seat costs you $x/month
  • Typically more expensive than a usage-based license

Usage-based

  • Typically less expensive than a seats license
  • Cost variability tempered by pre-purchasing usage credits that never expire and consume them over time

Engagement Factors

Experience

Exp.

High

  • Best possible quadrant for engagement 
  • Will overcome learning obstacles
  • Will find a way to learn, even if materials are poor  
  • Won’t need nudging or incentives
  • Text is great
  • Can easily learn something
  • May need to work up the energy to engage in low quality materials  
  • May procrastinate, so incentives can help motivate.
  • Text is great

Low

  • Wants to learn
  • Has little experience so can benefit from more instructional quality
  • Greatest benefit of video and other rich media
  • Worst possible quadrant  
  • May not have experience in the topic
  • May not really care about it
  • Will require a lot of motivation to see engagement
  • Video can help

High

Low

Perceived Relevance

Neovation Learning Solutions Team - OttoLearn Microlearning is a product of Neovation Learning Solutions
eLearning Learning

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