Educators educating Educators

Jul 21

Forgetting Curve

 

 

People usually forget 90% of what they learn in class within 30 days. Also, the majority of forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class.

Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe the learning curve. He is most famous for discovering the most depressing fact in education. People usually forget 90% of what they learn in class within 30 days. Also, the majority of forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class. This has been confirmed many times since.

 

Hermann Ebbinghaus


In 1885, he published his groundbreaking Über das Gedächtnis ("On Memory", later translated to English as Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology) in which he described experiments he conducted on himself to describe the processes of learning and forgetting.

Ebbinghaus made several findings that are still relevant and supported to this day including the forgetting curve, the learning curve, and the massed-spaced effect.

Arguably his most famous finding is the forgetting curve, which illustrates the decline of memory retention over time. The forgetting curve describes the exponential curve that illustrates how quickly we tend to forget the information we have learned. The sharpest decline is in the first twenty minutes, then in the first hour, and then the curve evens off after about one day.

Forgetting curve


Forgetting curve

Forgetting curve with reminders

 


The forgetting curve graph shows that humans tend to halve their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material.

Ebbinghaus also described the learning curve that refers to how fast we learn information. The sharpest increase occurs after the first try, and gradually evens out. This means that less and less new information is retained after each repetition. Like the forgetting curve, the learning curve is also exponential.

 




News

In case you get bored with the lazy days of summer and want to get a jump preparing for the coming school year, I added to Stuff4Educators a section called How to Study Better based on research from Harvard Medical School that highlights four science-backed ways towards better learning (Hint: drop the highlighter). Additionally, I posted a YouTube video under exercise from the Dana Foundation that won the Northwest Emmy award called Exercise and the Brain that explores the benefits of exercise on the brain and learning. Finally, some books that I have read this past year and found to be stimulating are listed.