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/ Learning Curve

What can business learn from a 18th century German Psychologist?

Reflection in a glass ball

The Forgetting & Learning Curve

Hermann Ebbingbhaus was a German Psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe the learning curve.

Ebbinghaus through his study and researched created the fogetting curve model, which hypothesizes that humans tend to halve their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material.

He asserted that the best methods for increasing the strength of memory are:
better memory representation (e.g. with mnemonic techniques)
repetition based on active recall (especially spaced repetition).

Forgetting and learning curve

Learning something important to you

Learning is complex and multi-faceted, repetition does not take into consideration of how relevant and important the learning is to the individual.
If you learn something, and it is important to you, and you can connect it with many things you already know, your memory retention will be very high
If you learn something, and it is not important to you, and you do not connect it with anything you already know, you will have poor retention and require regular repetition.

If you can learn something new, connect this with things you already know, and furthermore you can practice and receive feedback, this is a strong cognitive learning and performance technique.

There are many ways to reinforce new learning. Cognitive recall can be practiced through space learning technique as designed by the Leitner system, which is a widely used method of efficiently using flashcards. It is a simple implementation of the principle of spaced repetition, where cards are reviewed at increasing intervals.

The feedback loop

Skill based and behavioural change requires practice and feedback by oneself and by trusted coach. The practice and feedback loop based on observed behaviour enables skills to be enhanced and behaviours to be adopted. In many areas this close feedback loop exists today, for example new doctors and nurses are closely monitored and coached by experience staff. Even in the world of computer programming this mentoring takes places budding new programmers together with experienced programmers who can oversee the coding.

There are many jobs however that require sophisticated communication skills, and where the newbie is not accompanied in their every day performance by experience colleagues who can observe and provided them that tight cognitive feedback loop. This is a challenge facing many organisations today.

The formal training many organisations provide new starters are not accompanied by a comprehensive follow up by their managers or coaches where by the nexby can practice and receive feedback on their performance prior to the live performanced, as distance and time prohibit this.

Today’s organisational challenge

The challenge for organisations is to evolve their training courses to learning programs that enable participants to progress at their own pace, learning what they feel is important, connecting it to previous knowledge and practicing this within their own relevant context in order to improve their learning curve.

The learning curve attributed to Ebbinghaus, represents experience either in time or in number of trials on the horizonatl axis and learning or proficiency on the Y axis. This means the more you practice the better you get.

Golf bunker

Photo by Warren Wong / Unsplash

Lucky bunker shot

A journalist commented to the golfer Jack Nicholas what luck he had when he holed out from a bunker, Jack replied “yes the more i practice the luckier I get.”

Practice makes perfect is a simple memorable term for repetitive spaced out practice improve proficiency.