Knowledge Retention Strategies for Tackling the Forgetting Curve

A pink piece of paper with a clock drawn on it.

The forgetting curve isn’t a myth. In fact, Hermann Ebbinghaus’ experiment proves the truth of the adage “use it or lose it.” He discovered, Psychology Encyclopedia explained, that learners forget a shocking amount of information within 20 minutes of learning. The bits that remain are steadily forgotten and within 24 hours, two-thirds of the lesson’s contents have vanished from memory.

Luckily, Ebbinghaus’ conclusion provides insight on knowledge retention strategies that can help prevent forgetting—and you can design those tactics into training programs.

Build on what people know

Our minds organize new information by linking it to what we already know. So, when you remind people of relevant knowledge and build new details onto that, it’s more likely that the mind will store that information in a way that makes it easy to recall. This tactic can also be used throughout training, connecting learning from earlier lessons as you move forward to more challenging material.

Contextualize learning

Retention is also greatly improved when learning uses real life examples and tools or when it takes place in the work environment. The aim is to use realistic experiences to train on new concepts and procedures so that they are easier to recall and use in day-to-day work. And when you can, embedding training in the work environment builds muscle memory for employing the same skill later. Contextual learning makes the learning timelier, more memorable and easier to immediately apply.

Space learning over time

Spacing and interleaving are powerful tactics that are often overlooked in favor of cramming learning in short sessions.

Spacing is the practice of leaving a short period of time between learning different elements and between learning and recall. During that bit of time, the brain works behind the scenes to consolidate what has been learned and make sense of it for future use.

Interleaving alternates the learning activities of several related skills. (Train a lesson on A, then a lesson on B, then C, then back to A, etc.) And it works for the same reason—in between skill applications, the brain can make sense of what’s being learned and solidify the connections among related topics. Interleaving is often more powerful than simple spacing for accelerating and remembering learning.

Cultivate a culture of learning

A culture of learning gives time and space for acquiring new skills. When the work environment doubles as a training ground, people are more apt to recognize how important and valued continuous learning is in the organization. Constant learning, contextual learning and spaced learning are all elements of a strong learning culture. Taken together, these knowledge retention strategies can conquer the forgetting curve.