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Overcoming the Forgetting Curve

Posted by Josh Cardoz on Thu, May 12, 2016

How much does your organization invest in training per year? If you were to break down your budget allocation, how much of it would you say is spent in pre-learning and typical training content (e.g. workshops, eLearning)? And what about post-learning? How far does your post-learning extend? Is your post-learning tied more to your prior learning moment or your upcoming performance moment(s)? Chances are you, like most L&D functions, focus on typical training content, with perhaps a bit more attached on either end through pre- and post- learning support. But is this an efficient model for learning?

Let’s talk about having good curves. Learning curves, that is! As learning units, we are really good at getting learners to the top of the curve; filling the learner with the appropriate knowledge and skills. But of course, as you know, if learners are a vessel to be filled (p.s., they are not), then there’s a slow leak that is called retention, and that’s where the curve free falls into oblivion. This is quite literally watching your investment dwindle day by day. These are bad curves to have.


When you look at how steep the forgetting curve is, it makes you wonder: Why are we putting all our eggs in the training basket, when what we’re really trying to do is impact the performance basket? If the goal of any training is preparation for the performance moment, why are we always concerned about the learning moment? – something that typically happens much before the performance moment.

Part of the reason is because this is how we have always done things. We have all come through the classroom model of learning, where the performance environment wasn’t so clearly focused. But when there is a clear performance goal in mind, we need to work better to change our learning culture to allow for better learning support. Acquiring knowledge and skills is not even half the battle – it’s priming the learner. The actual challenge is keeping that learning curve up – so that when the performance moment arrives, they are ready.


In our design sessions at SwissVBS, we are obsessed with the ongoing, post-learning, performance-driven environment. Imagine there were a way to maintain retention levels, long past the learning moment, in a highly-contextualized fashion. What kind of reinforcement experience (what we call “rXPs”) are we creating for our learners? How we do map this to the learner journey? To their performance journey?

Isolated learning experiences no longer make the cut. Yes, we obviously need to create the learning moment, whether through a workshop or a manual or online training, but we need to equally support the performance moment. This is because learning support and performance support are one and the same. We need to remember that change is a journey, not an event. We need to stop thinking in terms of learning moments, but learning journeys. It’s time to ask your organization a serious question:

Click below to see how we address this challenge with mobile learning reinforcement.

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Topics: Forgetting Curve, Learning Reinforcement

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