The forgetting curve and campaign approach to remembering learning

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Written by Issy Nancarrow on 3 January 2017

We all absorb a lot of information every day, from phone numbers to overheard conversations on the train. Most of this information isn’t needed and must be filtered out in order for the brain to retain more useful information.

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus experimented with memory loss by memorising a list of nonsense three letter words and tracking how long he could retain the information. His results are widely accepted as a general theory for how we learn and retain information.  

The resulting graph is called Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve and it’s steeper than you’d like! As you can see from the diagram, the forgetting curve decreases very quickly initially and the loss of information slows over time. The exact curve will depend on a lot of factors including how meaningful the learner finds the information and levels of stress.

The good news is, there are strategies you can use to improve learner’s memory retention.

Through repetition, bite-sized learning and a structured campaign approach we can go some way to overcome this problem. The important thing is to revisit information at the correct intervals with engaging messaging that stands out from the noise of other day-to-day communications.

For best results the first repetition should happen very soon after the initial learning, ideally within one day.

Friday training sessions generally put this process at an immediate disadvantage!

Further reminders should be given after a few days, a week, a month and a few months later. This is where a campaign approach to your learning can really make a difference. If you’ve got a structured campaign set out to reinforce, engage and embed your learning it’s going to have a much greater impact.

What is a campaign approach and what are the results?

A learning campaign uses marketing techniques and tools alongside the delivery of learning or change initiatives. The campaign begins before the learning; providing a collection of messaging to illustrate the importance of training, including the impact it will have on individual staff productivity, usefulness and career performance.

Tie learning activities into real world workplace challenges by integrating scenarios and simulations that highlight the consequences or rewards of the learning.

The campaign should use multiple points-of-contact (POCs) and a strong brand to ensure the message is heard through the noise of other internal and external communications.

Possible points-of-contact include leadership meetings, the intranet, company bulletins, events, business social networks and even adverts on the back of the restroom door! The success of a full-blown marketing campaign can be directly related to how the points-of-contact with the audience are utilised.

During the campaign important messages are repeated at the ideal intervals to aid information retention and embedding of learning from training or e-learning delivery.

Use bite-sized messages and include quizzes, videos or questions to make staff stop, think and reflect.

The repetition of important messaging helps to embed the learning and, importantly, happens in the workplace. By using marketing tools that track learner engagement we can further improve our impact by segmenting messaging to target staff who require more help, have different job roles or have proven to engage better with particular resources.

Take a look at the new graph for an idea of how a campaign learning approach can affect information retention.

Despite huge strides in the development of engaging learning delivery, processes and platforms, some fundamental challenges underlie most learning provisions. By utilising a campaign approach with helpful marketing techniques and tools we can overcome the difficulties expressed in the forgetting curve. Furthermore, campaign learning enables the essential learning interventions we provide to have a proven impact on staff and business performance.

It’s time to implement the remembering curve through campaign learning!







About the author 

Issy (Isobel) Nancarrow
 is the Managing Director at Campaign Learning and founder of Nancarrow Partnerships and Campaign Learning. You can contact Issy via


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