Let’s Not Forget the Forgetting Curve
April 6, 2016
You are probably familiar with the concept of the learning curve. When it’s steep, learning is a challenge. When the learning curve is shallow, learning comes easily. When we say a student is smart in subject, we often mean they have a shallow learning curve. Most of school focuses on getting students up the learning curve, testing them to be sure they made it, and then moving on to the next topic.
But in reality, learning doesn’t stop with understanding. Deep learning encompasses understanding, storing, and recalling the information as needed for problem solving. If students know their facts or strategies and then forget, they need to struggle right back up the learning curve when they need to use that information again.* Who among us hasn’t had their mind go blank (and probably panicked) the night before the test?!
Even though you likely have never heard of the forgetting curve, it was identified by a scientist named Hermann Ebbinghaus back in 1885. The forgetting curve shows the rapid drop-off in retention if we aren’t re-exposed to newly introduced information multiple times. And just as we each have our own learning curve in a subject, we have our own forgetting curves too.
If our learning curve dictates how quickly we learn in school, it is our forgetting curve that can determine how efficiently we do our homework and how much we need to study for tests. It helps explain why some students can cram the night before and still do well, while others need to study over days.
The forgetting curve might be at the source of test anxiety for our brightest students or oft-described “under-performers”. A single experience of knowing your stuff the night before and drawing a complete blank on test day can plant seeds of doubt in your abilities. Add to that the confusion of not understanding why you don’t remember, and you can imagine how even the strongest learners might begin to feel stress, overcompensate by studying excessively, or take the opposite approach and withdraw or give up.
It’s critical for parents, teachers, and students to understand and acknowledge that how quickly we learn might not be indicative of how well we remember. And that just as we might need to give some students extra support and time to understand, other students might need extra support and time to improve retention and recall.
So, if your quick-to-understand student tells you he doesn’t remember or didn’t do as well as expected on the test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s not trying hard. However, it might mean that he needs to be taught more deliberate memorization techniques or accept that he might need to spend more time to prepare for an exam.
Conversely, don’t let your struggling student get discouraged because he doesn’t know the answer right away. It might take him a little bit longer to learn the information, but it’s quite possible that once he understands, the information sticks without much additional effort.
Do you know your children’s learning and remembering curves so you can best support them? Do you want to know?
You have our promise that the Mindprint assessment is by far the most efficient and affordable way to find out. Once you know your children’s learning strengths and needs, we will provide you with the best strategies to support your child’s learning and alleviate forgetting.
If you already have an objective assessment, try our research-based strategies. We’ve made it easy for you to find the ones most suited to your child’s needs.
Strategies to flatten the learning curve:
For students who have a harder time learning language-based concepts
For students who have a harder time learning visual or abstract concepts
For students who have a harder time understanding visual-spatial information
Strategies to make remembering easier:
For students who have a harder time remembering word-based information
For students who have a harder time remembering visual information
*Learning information a second time typically has a more shallow curve, but the effort for re-learning typically far exceeds the effort that would be required for spaced repetition to reach the same outcome.
Please continue to pay it forward and write user reviews for the strategies you tried.
As always, thanks for reading!