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The Forgetting Curve Has a Cure

What do you remember from your last training?

The way we’ve been learning is all wrong. Remember cramming for tests? I do, and while I usually did well on my exams, I didn’t retain much of anything. I’ve heard for years that people forget 70 percent of what they learn in a professional training class within 24 hours of the event. That isn’t learning at all. It’s a total waste of time and a monumental waste of money. And sales organizations don’t have either to spare.

So, what does work? Art Kohn’s article, “Brain Science: Overcoming the Forgetting Curve,”pointed me to a book called Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. Their research is fascinating and upends how we thought we learned. Studying by reading, re-reading, and repetition affects short-term memory only. The way to embed learning and actually remember information is to use “testing as a tool for learning.” We retrieve information when we’re quizzed, and that retrieval interrupts forgetting.

The takeaway for sales leaders: Next time you invest in expensive training, lock in that learning with pop quizzes.

I encourage you to read Make It Stick. But in the meantime, read this post on the forgetting curve. Test the process on yourself and see what a difference it makes.

Brain Science: Overcoming the Forgetting Curve
By Art Kohn

In last month’s column we admitted the painful fact that our employees quickly forget most of what they learn. And while forgetting depends on many factors, research shows that, on average, students forget 70 percent of what we teach within 24 hours of the training experience (Figure 1). This is a “dirty secret of training” because while we all know it is true, training organizations spend 60 billion dollars a year on training programs knowing full well that most of that knowledge will quickly disappear.

And we wonder why we do not get a lot of respect.

Forgetting is usually an active, adaptive, and even desirable process. After all, most of the things we remember (like where we set our glasses), are only of short-term importance, and after a day or so the brain needs to suppress such time-limited memories in order to free space for information that may be of more immediate value.

The problem is that if you remember, say, 50 things in a day, your brain does not automatically know which of these bits of information will be useful to you in the long run. As a result, it sometimes purges the baby right along with the bathwater.

Read the rest of Art’s article at learningsolutionsmag.com.

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