The Forgetting Curve and Training Reinforcement

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We know this situation all too well: your learners have returned from their course , but within days, they begin to forget important information and skills they learned during the training.

Why does this happen? And what’s the solution to this problem?

Strength of Memory

Back in 1885, Herman Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, hypothesized and tested a theory on memory retention. His theory was that information learned is quickly forgotten in the days and weeks following training.

During his study, Ebbinghaus repeatedly tested his memory of nonsense syllables (such as “WID”) and plotted these results on a graph. This later became what we now refer to as The Forgetting Curve.

Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve


Ebbinghaus was also able to test the effects of “overlearning” material and the strength of our memory after overlearning. He found that if knowledge or skills are practiced more than what is usually required, it would be considered overlearned and it’s Forgetting Curve would become more shallow.

The Forgetting Curve

After studying himself for several weeks, Ebbinghaus was able to hypothesize a few different factors that he believed helped decrease the Forgetting Curve and increase memory strength after training:

  • How meaningful is the content? Is the material or skills being learned meaningful to the learner? Are they truly interested in learning more about the topic?
  • How is it represented? How are you representing the content? Visually, text-based, group training, Q&As?
  • What kind of psychological factors come into play? Is the learner under additional stress? Are they getting enough sleep at night?

He then went on to hypothesis two different methods that would increase the strength of a learner’s memory:

  • Spaced repetition (also known as spaced rehearsal or spaced training)
  • Mnemonic techniques (short phrases, acronyms, or visual aids)

Ebbinghaus asserted that the optimal timing for the first repetition is within twenty-four hours of the initial training.

What is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is a learning tactic that utilizes the spacing effect that Ebbinghaus asserted during his study on memory strength.

Here’s a great explanation from Gwern.net:

  • The spacing effect essentially says that if you have a question (“What is the fifth letter in this random sequence you learned?”), and you can only study it, say, 5 times, then your memory of the answer (‘e’) will be strongest if you spread your 5 tries out over a long period of time - days, weeks, and months. One of the worst things you can do is blow your 5 tries within a day or two.

Most spaced repetition software uses a flash card model. Each card consists of a question/answer pair. When the learner answers the question/answer pair, they are then asked how easy they were able to remember that information. Based on the learner’s answer, the next interval is scheduled closer or further out.

Spaced repetition can be done manually, but software (such as Anki), allows the learner to focus on knowledge and skills retention instead of repetition and timing.

What’s the Difference Between Spaced Repetition and Training Reinforcement?

So how is training reinforcement different than spaced repetition?

Training reinforcement takes the concept of spaced repetition and adds additional layers, making it a more effective solution for training programs.

Training reinforcement uses your training content, learning objectives, and expected behavior outcomes to create a goal-based, structured Training Reinforcement Program. Instead of only focusing on knowledge retention, training reinforcement also focuses on creating lasting behavior changes.

“Without behavior change, you are not reinforcing; you are only reminding.”

- Anthonie Wurth

Spaced repetition is one of the many tactics used in training reinforcement to increase knowledge retention. Reinforcement programs use your learning objectives and expected behavior outcomes to create a “story” or timeline of events and messages.

Your learning objectives are then spaced out over the course of this story to increase knowledge retention and create lasting behavior changes.

How is Training Reinforcement Different Than Other Solutions?

There are many solutions being used in the training industry for knowledge retention and behavior change, so why choose training reinforcement?

  • It uses your learning objectives and expected behavior outcomes to increase knowledge retention and create behavior changes
  • It uses spaced repetition to increase knowledge retention
  • It has a smart, automated delivery platform which is cloud-based and delivers the content to the devices your participants already use.
  • By far the biggest advantage to using training reinforcement, is its ability to help you increase the effectiveness of training and prove this with hard numbers from an analytical tool.

During reinforcement, you have access to a large pool of reinforcement data that can be turned into Actionable Intelligence. These insights are then used to help create a more effective training program.

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