So, why do learners forget? Understanding the forgetting curve
No matter how deeply you teach a subject, despite all of the opportunities you give learners to build connections, however carefully your lessons are sequenced to provide chances to apply their knowledge in different contexts, children have an amazing ability to fail to recall prior learning right when they need it.
There’s a reason for this. To get to the bottom of it, let’s look at ‘the forgetting curve’, first described by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885.
In his work, Ebbinghaus describes a decrease in the brain’s ability to retain memory over time. Within the first few days of learning, you’ll find that memory loss is rapid. After that, the rate of forgetting starts to decrease and become much slower. So the question is: how can we harness this research to help us improve our learners’ ability to remember?
He goes on to describe the concept of over-learning: revisiting topics at regular intervals to secure them in memory. With over-learning, the forgetting curve looks more like this:
When you look at the bigger learning picture, it’s clear that providing learners with regular opportunities to revisit prior learning is a more effective teaching strategy overall.