Ebbinghaus’ Curve of Forgetting

Ebbinghaus Effect

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus a German doctor of philosophy published “Ebbinghaus’ Curve of Forgetting” showing that a given piece of learning is forgotten by more than half its audience within one hour.  The share of the audience that retains the message is reduced approximately 30% after one day, and to just 25% after only two days.

Which means potentially most training can be a complete waste of your time and effort.

Not a good investment of your training budget!

When you’re investing in training you want people to remember the messages; not just tomorrow, but next week, next month or even next year.

If you want your team to remember the messages it starts with engaging them in the training. And engaging them in the training starts with making the training engaging!

Here are 10 ideas to help make this happen…

  1. Keep things light hearted – it might be a serious subject, but the messages will stick far better if the team are happy and relaxed. Reinforce messages with quizzes and games to add an element of competition and fun.
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  2. Stop thinking about training purely as a classroom activity; get creative with your training. Recognise people’s different learning styles and vary the ways you communicate with your team to appeal to different preferences. Ask the team what training they think they need and how they’d like to learn it.
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  3. Use everyday activities as opportunities for development. Use team meetings to direct focus and reinforce messages. Assign tasks or projects on real business issues to develop team members.
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  4. Get everyone’s involvement. No one wants to sit through a ‘chalk and talk’ lecture. Use team exercises to encourage interaction, get opinions, and generate ideas so everyone benefits from each other’s insights and suggestions.
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  5. Add in fun energiser activities and ‘right brain’ exercises. These might seem trivial, but getting your team involved keeps them energised and in a better state of mind for learning.
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  6. Make full use of the senses. Use props and live examples that people can touch, smell and even taste if appropriate.
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  7. Add variety. Do something different to what people are used to, to make learning interesting or memorable, so everyone remembers the messages.
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  8. Take people away from their normal environment (as long as this doesn’t make them uncomfortable or become a distraction); go outside, use music; alter the layout, introduce unusual props; use interesting presenters or even actors (great for any interpersonal skills training).
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  9. Use role plays. Despite people’s reluctance they are a great way for people to practise what to say and how in a safe setting. So it’s easier when it comes to putting it into practice in the real world. Make these less intimidating by running in small groups with colleagues acting as an observer to give feedback.
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  10. Keep messages simple and use memory aids and support materials so people can remind themselves of the key messages when needed.

Of course, you still need to ensure people understand the relevance of what you are training and follow up afterwards to help them put it into practice and embed new habits and behaviours.

But taking one or two of these ideas will go some way to making your training memorable. And if you can build in several of these principles you’ll get people more engaged and give your training some real impact.

Action point

Review the next messages you need to cascade to your team and pick just one thing from the list above – one which you’re not already doing – and build it in to your training.


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