"Training doesn’t help one jot if people can’t remember it in the real world" —Teresa Ewington
Our biggest goal in training is to get students to remember the material. To do this more effectively, it helps to learn what causes the mind to forget things. By getting a clear view of what makes a person forget, we can incorporate key elements into our programs that help counteract those causes.
Forgetting is an important function. It helps a human filter out trivial things that would clog the brain and override important information. Forgetting helps ease the pain of tragedy and enables a person to continue living without constant sadness. There are times, however, when we not only need to remember but need to do so at a time when the information is useful.
Let's take a look at the five most common reasons your corporate learners forget your training.
Reason #1: Encoding Failure (Learning Didn't Pay Attention to Content)
This is the most common cause of forgetting. The information never actually made it to the person's memory bank. This happens when a person fails to focus on what is being taught. Maybe they had other things on their mind that day, or the material just wasn't engaging enough to capture their attention. Another reason for not paying attention is that the person didn't see a reason for learning this information; it didn't seem to have a purpose related to the subject at hand. This encoding failure can also occur when someone is being presented with too much information all at once, causing them to have to pick and choose what the brain will retain.
Reason #2: Interference
It is known that things we learn recently are more easily remembered than older information. If both sets of information are on the same subject, the newer memories may make it harder, if not impossible, to remember the older ones on the same subject. This is called retroactive interference.
If the original information is so strong that it makes learning new information on the subject difficult, it is referred to as proactive interference. This can happen because the first information we learn on a subject is more deeply ingrained and anything that might counteract or clash with that understanding becomes difficult to retain.
Recommended read: The 6 Laws of Learning No Instructional Designer Can Afford to Ignore
Reason #3: Shallow Processing
Deep processing refers to the active and thoughtful engagement with information, where learners make connections and extract meaning from the material being learned. It is a cognitive process in which learners actively analyze, evaluate and create new knowledge from the information presented. When learners engage in deep processing, they are able to understand the material at a deeper level, make connections to other information, and apply the knowledge to real-life situations.
Deep processing is considered to be more effective than shallow processing, which is the passive absorption of information without actively engaging with it. Shallow processing is often characterized by memorization of facts and figures, without understanding their relevance or application.
Deep processing can be enhanced through various methods, such as elaboration, where learners relate new information to existing knowledge, and self-explanation, where learners explain how new information relates to their existing knowledge. Additionally, incorporating real-life examples and hands-on activities can help learners connect the material to their own experiences and make it more meaningful. Furthermore, creating an environment that fosters critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity, can help learners engage in deep processing.
Read more: 4 Ways To Make Learning Retention Part of Your Training Program
Reason #4: What Versus How
When it comes to teaching and learning, it is important to not only provide learners with information, but also to ensure that they understand the reasoning behind it. Simply providing learners with the "what" is not enough for powerful knowledge retention, as the brain needs to understand the "how" and "why" in order for the information to be retained for a longer period of time.
When learners are only provided with the "what" and not the "how" and "why", they are not actively engaging with the material and are simply receiving information without understanding the context or relevance of it. This leads to shallow processing, where the information is only temporarily stored in the brain and is easily forgotten.
On the other hand, when learners are provided with the "how" and "why", they are actively engaging with the material and making connections to their existing knowledge. This leads to deep processing, where the information is more thoroughly understood and more likely to be retained for a longer period of time.
For example, when teaching how a motor works, simply providing a list of parts and their functions is not enough. It is important to also explain how each part functions and how they all work together to make the motor run. Additionally, providing real-life examples or hands-on activities can help learners connect the material to their own experiences and make it more meaningful.
Reason #5: Decay or Disuse
There are a few different reasons why the brain forgets, but the two main causes are decay and disuse.
Decay refers to the gradual loss of information over time. When we first learn something, it is stored in our short-term memory, which is relatively small and can only hold a limited amount of information. If we do not actively work to transfer the information to our long-term memory, it will eventually fade away. This can happen due to the lack of attention given to the material, the lack of repetition, or the lack of reinforcement, as the brain is not able to store every single information and prioritize what it considers more important.
Disuse refers to the fact that the brain tends to take information that isn't used regularly and replace it with the material it knows a person needs. The brain is constantly reorganizing itself, and it prioritizes information that is deemed more important or relevant to our daily lives. If something is not used or accessed regularly, it is more likely to be forgotten.
In order to combat these causes of forgetting, it is important to actively work to transfer new information to long-term memory through the use of repetition, reinforcement, and elaboration. It is also important to regularly access and use the information we want to remember, in order to keep it active in our minds.
As eLearning professionals, it is almost as important to understand how the human mind forgets as it is to understand memory. Both concepts are part of the same coin and must be addressed together to make a program as successful as possible.
Understanding why learners forget is the first step. Now ensure that learners REMEMBER the knowledge till the time they get the opportunity to apply it. This is critical for the success of your training program.
Here are 7 proven knowledge retention strategies you can apply in your course design.
Explanations for Forgetting by Kendra Cherry, Psychology Expert