What will we remember? The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

What will we remember?

Mark Alder, fellow Toastmaster and trainer colleague, gave an impressive demonstration the other day.

He led us through the five steps of learning. Here they are:

  1. Perception (there can be no learning if we don’t physically perceive the information first)
  2. Emotion (it is through emotion that we get to step 3)
  3. Attention
  4. Understand
  5. Remember

He wrote all five steps on a flipchart, explaining each step for about two minutes.

We were 20 people in the room.
We were all interested.
We all paid attention.
It was all very clear.

Then came the surprise.

Mark suddenly turned the flipchart out of sight. He asked us to write down the five steps, from memory.

How many would we remember?

The result was astonishing. Not a person in the room remembered all five steps! We had spent the last ten minutes ‘learning’ about them, yet now, a few seconds later, we could hardly remember four.

It was an impressive demonstration but I shouldn’t have been surprised.

First, because I wrote about this before.
Secondly, the phenomenon isn’t new.

Back in the 19th century, the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus made inquiries into the nature of forgetting: how much do we remember for how long? The result of his research is the now famous Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. 

How much do we remember?

 

Note: The red curve is the ‘basic’ forgetting curve. The green curves show how we remember more when we study the material again.

 

The red curve shows: we forget quite a bit of information right after hearing it. That’s what Mark made us experience. And it only gets worse: with every day that goes by we remember less and less of what you tell us.

So it is good to ask:

Three weeks from now, what is the one thing that you want us to remember? Because if we remember so little, let us remember what you want us to remember.

About Carsten

Hi, I am Carsten Wendt. I help people make their writing more exciting. I am also a passionate public speaking coach and Humorous Public Speaking Champion of Belgium.
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