What Is Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve? (+6 Tips to Overcome It)

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ebbinghaus forgetting curve

With rapid changes and advancements in technology, it has become crucial for organizations to support their employees with training programs to continuously upskill them on new digital processes and technologies.

However, your employees are already bogged down with their day-to-day responsibilities and might find it challenging to focus on expanding their knowledge or completing new training sessions. 

Moreover, traditional employee training methods such as group training and text-heavy manual guides are tedious and overwhelm learners with too much information at once, making it difficult to remember key information. These learnings further fade away as hours, days, and weeks pass.

To tackle this challenge, we must first understand the concept of the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

This guide will help you understand the concept of Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve, and more importantly, it will give you impactful strategies to overcome it, allowing you to promote efficient, continuous learning across your organization.

What Is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve?

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is a mathematical formula originated in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist. Ebbinghaus tested his memory over various periods and came up with a visual representation of how the learned information fades over time. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve demonstrates the rate at which information is forgotten over time when no effort is made to retain it.

What Is the Half-Life of Recently Acquired Knowledge?

With newly acquired information or knowledge, the curve shows that humans tend to halve their memory in a matter of days or weeks unless that information is consciously re-reviewed. The speed of unlearning depends on several factors, such as the difficulty of information, how meaningful it is to the person, how it is represented, and physiological factors such as stress and sleep.

Memory retention and Forgetting Curve

Some studies suggest that humans forget 50% of new information within an hour of learning it. That increases to an average of 70% within 24 hours.


How to Overcome the Forgetting Curve

L&D managers are constantly looking for employee training solutions to combat the forgetting curve and help employees retain knowledge better. 

Here are six strategies that will help you improve knowledge retention from your training:

  1. Reinforce training regularly
  2. Using different formats to deliver learning
  3. Keep it engaging
  4. Learning in the flow of work
  5. Microlearning
  6. Spaced learning

1. Reinforce training regularly

If your organization carries out mandatory ad-hoc training events, the forgetting curve will be a constant challenge that overwhelms your employees.

Instead, you need to create an open learning environment for employees to prioritize training and retention of relevant knowledge. Creating an open learning environment doesn’t need to be difficult. All you need to do is run frequent training events to reinforce learnings and actively support knowledge sharing within your organization by conducting training days, workshops, and a thorough employee onboarding process

Once your employees recognize that frequent learning and reiteration is part of your organization’s routine, they’re more likely to engage in training and retain critical knowledge.

2. Using different formats to deliver learning

The one-for-all approach of traditional training is no longer efficient in the digital age. They are not interactive, non-engaging, and require a large time investment from employees.

Employees today prefer different styles of learning – some prefer visual learning, some need hands-on experience, others require an instructor to guide them, and so on. 

L&D teams need to understand their employees’ learning requirements and build personalized flows for various learning types to develop training programs that have a higher chance of overcoming the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. When learning is delivered in their preferred way, employees understand the content better which naturally remains in their memory longer. 

Some of the most common employee training methods that help boost engagement and knowledge retention are:

  • eLearning: Also known as online learning, it enables employees to learn anywhere, from their desk or in the comfort of their homes, according to their individual learning styles and needs. 
  • On-the-Job Training: This type of learning enables active participation for employees by empowering them to learn in the flow of work.
  • Instructor-Led Training: This face-to-face learning style mimics physical classroom spaces with an instructor present to lead the training session. 
  • Coaching: Coaching involves an experienced professional – a supervisor, mentor, or veteran employee – who mentors or coaches an employee on specific job tasks and responsibilities.
  • Simulation Training: Simulation training lays out different potential scenarios that allow employees to practice tasks that mimic the actual work of their specific job’s role.

3. Keep it engaging

Learner concentration naturally wanes when they are asked to read large amounts of text or watch hours of presentations, which in turn reduces knowledge retention. When training content is engaging, it improves course completion rates and helps employees retain information for a longer time.  

To overcome the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, it is important to make your training content engaging, interactive, and easy to digest. People learn and retain better when they are being involved actively rather than observing passively. 

Instead of conducting classroom training sessions or providing long training manuals for employees to read, mix things up. Keep your learner’s interest by providing varying content such as videos, images, webinars, and adding elements of gamification to the training material

The most preferred and effective way to deliver knowledge and consume content in the digital age is via video training.

Video offers better engagement for your team members, and a higher chance of information retention. A study conducted by the SAVO group confirmed that presenting learning materials visually increases knowledge retention by up to 65%.

This means better training effectiveness, while also reducing the need for continuous learning over time. Additionally, the impact of videos can emotionally connect to the audience and promote higher engagement rates.

4. Learning in the flow of work

When employees have to wait for the opportunity to implement new skills or knowledge they learned in a training session, the information already becomes stale and is difficult to recollect. To avoid such a situation, employees need to learn within the context of their jobs and immediately apply knowledge gained. 

This is what Josh Bersin trademarked as learning in the flow of work

According to the learning pyramid, learners retain 75% of knowledge when they practice doing a task, compared with only 10% when reading instructions.

Learning in the flow of work is an active learning approach that allows people to absorb more information and learn while working on a software application or digital process. Applying this strategy to employee training leads to better comprehension of technology, efficient learning, and better retention of training content. 

Learning in the flow of work is much more effective than traditional training. Learning by doing makes the material more meaningful and leads to in-depth understanding, greater retention, and better recall. Additionally, learning by doing is one of the most simple ways for employees to get the most of downtime between tasks and pick up new skills without disrupting their daily routine.

5. Microlearning

Between checking emails, managing phone calls, and multitasking, it’s normal for employees to become distracted and not focused during training. To ensure that employees are not distracted, properly engaged, and focused in the training programs, organizations need to introduce new learning methods in the workplace, such as microlearning.

The whole concept of microlearning is built around an employee’s actual learning cycle. In contrast to traditional classroom settings and long lectures, microlearning takes employees’ short attention spans into account by delivering information in smaller, manageable micro-packages that typically last less than 5 minutes. 

Research has shown that microlearning can improve knowledge retention by as much as 80% while improving learner engagement by 50%.

6. Spaced learning

Spaced learning is a learning methodology in which learners are presented with new learning materials in a timed session, with a short break after completing it. This approach strengthens memory retention as the learner can study the information and periodically return to review it. 

This spacing can occur within a single course module or by scheduling modules and courses several hours, days, or weeks apart. For instance, you might refresh your learning from a class the following day, then after a week, then again after 30 days, and you’ll still know all the key information a month later. 

Additionally, learners practice retrieving the learned information using different formats such as solving problems or completing assignments to recall and strengthen their learning and discover any gaps they need to focus on and relearn.

Overcome the forgetting curve with Whatfix's digital adoption platform

Now that you have read tips to combat the challenge presented by the forgetting curve, learn how a Digital Adoption Platform can help apply these learnings to your L&D strategy

DAPs augment your training programs by enabling interactive, hands-on learning directly within a software application or digital process. This method eliminates the gap between theory and practice, which automatically engages employees’ memory and accelerates learning.


DAP helps overcome knowledge retention challenges and promotes effective employee learning:

  • In-app guidance: DAP gives employees access to all relevant information, resources, documentations, and workflows they need to learn a new process or application. 
  • Interactive walkthroughs: Guides user step-by-step through every task or process within an application. Interactive walkthroughs are used for customer and employee onboarding and training programs to encourage a higher level of employee understanding and engagement.
  • Contextual self-help: DAP provides contextual support in real-time without employees having to raise support tickets and wait for a resolution for their queries. Contextual help is provided directly inside the software and the guided steps can be immediately applied without having to break from the current task or search for answers online.
  • Microlearning: DAP enables microlearning by bringing in short and concise snippets of training which are conducive to how the human brain remembers information.
  • Learning analytics – DAP helps companies identify trouble spots or blind spots in employee learning. The powerful analytics tool monitors user analytics to see whether employees are getting stuck and creates additional walkthroughs or self-help articles if needed.

Forgetting Curve

There are different factors that affect the rate of forgetting:

  • Difficulty of information
  • Relevancy of the information to the person
  • Not reviewing the information after learning
  • Physiological factors such as stress and sleep
  • Ineffective methods of learning

Less than half of the information is retained after one hour of training. More than 70% of the information is forgotten after on day. 75% of the information is forgotten after 6 days.

Strategies that help overcome the forgetting curve:

  • Creating an open learning environment
  • Using different formats to deliver learning
  • Making your training content engaging, interactive, and easy to digest
  • Practising learning in the flow of work
  • Microlearning
  • Spaced learning
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