The Forgetting Curve is a Lie

It’s time to forget everything you know about the Forgetting Curve.

What matters is how much information learners retain — their Retention Curve — not how much they forget.

The Forgetting Curve is based on an experiment that Dr. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, conducted in the 1880s. He memorized some nonsense words and tested his own recall of the information. What has become known as the “Forgetting Curve” is the effect of time and repetition on a person’s ability to recall information, based on his results. Over time, without sufficient repetition or refreshing, recalling information becomes harder.

While this is true, the notion of the Forgetting Curve is often misapplied or misunderstood. Those tidy charts — the ones that show that learners forget a specific percentage of what they’ve learned in 24 hours, 48 hours, a week — oversimplify the challenge of retention and leave out essential information.

Even worse, they focus on the wrong thing: What matters isn't what learners forget but how to ensure they remember, retain, and can recall information in the appropriate context.

Make Room for the Retention Curve

Ensuring that learners retain what they’ve learned and can use it to improve their performance on the job suggests that focusing on a Retention Curve is more useful than worrying about learners’ Forgetting Curve.

Key principles of learning science, cited by Halpern and Hakel, apply here:

“Practice at Retrieval”

Asking learners to respond to cues, repeatedly, over time, in a variety of contexts, is the “single most important variable in promoting long-term retention and transfer.”

Spaced Practice

Asking learners to recall and apply information repeatedly and occasionally, again, over time, moves information into long-term memory and solidifies knowledge; massed practice, or cramming, aids in short-term recall but not true learning.

Prior Knowledge is a Key Influence

“What and how much is learned in any situation depends heavily on prior knowledge and experience,” according to Halpern and Hakel. “Each learner creates new meaning using what he or she already knows.”

Less is More

Asking learners to recall some information leads to selective forgetting of material not used. The key information is moved into long-term memory, while less-useful information is filtered out.

These principles suggest that, to achieve long-term learning and retention, frequent, short learning and practice sessions will do a better job than massed practice. If that practice considers each learner’s prior knowledge and build on it, while also personalizing content to the learner’s goals, ensuring that material is relevant and likely to be applied on the job, so much the better. In fact, these sound like the building blocks of a successful Retention Curve.

Image of  a man holding a mobile phone, which is focused in the foreground - OttoLearn Personalized Learning

Agile Microlearning Creates a Retention Curve

OttoLearn, our Agile Microlearning platform, applies evidence-based principles of learning to measure each learner’s proficiency and the speed and quality of their learning. Using proprietary algorithms, Otto:

  • Figures out what the learner knows already
  • Factors in the learner’s mastery goals — what they need to know
  • Measures the learner’s speed and confidence level
  • Calculates how quickly a learner is likely to “forget” or have a reduction in retention

Personalized Learning Paths

OttoLearn uses all of this information to target content to each learner, creating a personalized learning path:

  • Learners engage in short (2-minute) Mastery Moments once or a few times each day.
  • Otto delivers Activities just frequently enough that learners retain knowledge and improve their mastery.
  • Rather than deliver the same content to all learners, OttoLearn delivers targets content, adapting to each learner’s goals, prior expertise — and progress.
  • Activities test knowledge from a variety of angles and contexts, to ensure that learners exercise and their knowledge in an active and engaging way, eschewing passive learning based on rote memorization.

Unique Retention Curves

Because each learner’s needs and prior knowledge are unique, each learner’s Retention Curve is unique. And OttoLearn is flexible enough to bend the Retention Curve to individuals’ changing circumstances.

  • When Janet in sales goes on a three-week vacation, Otto will deliver Activities designed to refresh her recall of essential information when she returns
  • If Hakim moves from product sales to a new position as warehouse fulfillment manager, he’ll need to apply his extensive knowledge of products to anticipating and meeting demand. Otto will deliver fewer Activities related to product features and more Activities related to his new role.

Forget the Forgetting Curve. Power learning and transfer by creating a Retention Curve. Talk to an OttoLearn microlearning expert today!

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.
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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

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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 Training Engagement, Retention, and Microlearning - OttoLearn Microlearning

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