What is Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve and How to Overcome it

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Ever heard of Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve?

Forgetting is so frustrating, whether you’re trying to remember someone’s name or remember the steps needed to perform a specific task.

It’s also frustrating when you’ve worked hard to develop a lesson and share it with others, only to have them almost instantly forget all the knowledge you have tried to teach them through the transfer of learning.

Have you ever wondered why people forget or what you can do to reduce the chances of this issue happening? Do you want to reduce the number of times you have to repeat yourself after training your team or explaining a particular topic?

In this blog, we will address answers to these and other frequently asked questions through the lens of Ebbinghuas’s Forgetting Curve.

Never heard of this concept? No worries. Find out everything you need to know below.


What is the Forgetting Curve?

The Forgetting Curve is a concept created by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist. Ebbinghaus came up with the Forgetting Curve because he wanted to understand why a person loses information through forgetting and how forgetfulness can be prevented.

The Forgetting Curve is a mathematical formula. It demonstrates the rate at which people forget information when they don’t make concerted efforts to retain it. Put simply, based on Ebbinghaus’s research, people rapidly lose their memory over a period of days or weeks unless they consciously review the information they learned.

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The Forgetting Curve can be best understood with this diagram:

Ebbinghaus’s Model

Ebbinghaus developed the Forgetting Curve in 1885. While devising his theory, he made several noteworthy discoveries regarding memory, including the following:

  • Memories become weaker over time: If you learn something new but do not make any efforts to relearn the information, especially when you’re in the pivotal zone of proximal development, you will remember less and less as time goes by.
  • The biggest retention drop occurs soon after learning. Your ability to retain new information drops sharply soon after you learn it unless you make an effort to review and reinforce those details. For example, you might leave a lecture feeling confident in what you’ve learned, only to realise a few hours later that you only recall a few key pieces of information.
  • It’s easier to remember when things have specific meanings. The Forgetting Curve is most applicable to things that have very little or no meaning. For example, Ebbinghaus tested his theory on his ability to recall a series of nonsense syllables. The more something means to you, how interesting you find it, etc., the less likely you are to begin to forget it.
  • Presentation affects learning. Information may be more or less memorable based on how it’s communicated. For example, if something is clearly explained with diagrams and other visuals, it will be harder for everyone to forget compared to something someone says offhandedly.

It’s important to note that several factors influence The Forgetting Curve and knowledge retention, including the complexity of the information and a person’s prior knowledge or capabilities, as well as physical factors and psychological factors. For example, if someone is tired or stressed, they will have a harder time remembering.

Why is the Forgetting Curve Important?

The Forgetting Curve is critical because it sheds light on how and why people forget information. Knowing how and why people forget, in turn, can help you develop strategies that reduce your chances of forgetting in the first place.

For example, say you know that stress impedes memory. With that information in mind, you can make sure you schedule training sessions during a less stressful time of day (maybe at the beginning of the workday), so your team will have an easier time staying focused and retaining what you taught.

Methods for Overcoming Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

Now that you know more about Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve and how memory works, you can start making changes to the way you learn new information, as well as how you deliver information to others. Here are some strategies for overcoming the Forgetting Curve and strengthening memory:


Engagement and Interaction

Your team is less likely to succumb to the effects of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve if you prioritise employee engagement during the lesson planning process.

There are lots of ways that you can make lessons more engaging, starting with how you deliver learning materials.

For example, most people struggle to retain information when it’s delivered in massive paragraphs written in tiny font. Conversely, if you use short sentences, short paragraphs, bullet points, and numbered lists, it’s much easier to take things in and remember them later.

It’s also easier to keep employees engaged when you encourage them to interact with you during the lesson. Rather than standing at the front of the room and lecturing to your team, invite them to share their own experiences, answer questions, ask for clarification, etc.

Keep social learning theory in mind during training session preparation, too. Many people learn better in social settings, such as through group discussions. If they have opportunities to communicate with their colleagues and learn from each other, they’ll have an easier time remembering.


Reinforcement or Repetition

Employees will gradually forget information as time goes on. That’s why repetition and continuous reinforcement are so critical to the learning process.

You can’t tell your employees something once and expect them to remember every little detail. Instead, you should incorporate repetition into your lessons.

One way to use repetition to overcome the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is by including regular reviews at the beginning of each training session – this is sometimes described as spaced learning. Spending even a few minutes going over what you covered last time can jog people’s memories and remind them of what they learned previously.

Increasing the frequency of your training sessions can have a positive impact as well.

Rather than delivering one long lesson every few months, perhaps you could share shorter lessons once a week during your team meeting. Regular reinforcement and repetition will help to drive home key points and give people more opportunities to rehearse what they learned.


Learning Culture

Strive to create a learning culture at your organisation. A learning culture encourages ongoing training and education. It gets people excited about learning new information and developing new skills.

A learning culture, naturally, lends itself to better memory and less forgetting among team members. When people feel committed to their work and have regular opportunities to learn, it’s easier for them to focus, retain information, and implement what they’ve learned into their everyday workflows.

How do you create a learning culture?

There are lots of steps you can take to create a learning culture, including the following:

  • Focus on frequency: Remember that repetition is key to learning and memory. Make time for regular training sessions so people have more opportunities to practise new skills, review information, etc.
  • Simplify knowledge sharing: Utilise tools like learning management systems (LMS) that empower employees to share information and access learning materials at any time and anywhere.
  • Use gamification: Gamification can create engagement and get people more invested in learning new material and retaining what they’ve learned.

Measuring results and making adjustments based on data is critical as well. Companies with learning cultures are committed to continuous improvement and are willing to make adjustments to facilitate better learning environments and outcomes.



Have you ever sat through a lesson and asked yourself, “When am I ever going to need to know this?”

There’s a good chance your employees have asked themselves the same question – maybe even during one of your training sessions.

Make sure all information you share with your team is relevant to their jobs, goals, and the company’s larger learning objectives. Make it clear why specific subjects and topics are important, and provide real-world examples whenever you can.

The more obvious it is why they’re learning something, the easier it is for people to pay attention, attach meaning to the information, and remember it in the future.


Infuse Meaning

Similar to relevance is the idea of infusing meaning into the topics covered during your lesson.

Ebbinghaus noted during his research that it is easier to remember information that is meaningful to the learner. Learners forget things that don’t matter to them.

With that in mind, as a leader, you must find ways to make the topics you’re addressing meaningful to your employees.

Practical application and real-world examples can go a long way when it comes to infusing meaning into your lessons.

Don’t forget to highlight how a specific skill or piece of information can help employees do their jobs better. For example, will knowing how to use a new tool make it easier for sales team members to keep track of their clients and stay connected to them?

Be sure to highlight that fact during your lesson. You can also take things a step further by explaining how keeping track of and staying connected to clients will lead to more sales opportunities in the future – which means more opportunities to earn commissions and generate more revenue for the company.

It also helps to tie concepts back to the company’s values and mission. When people understand why a particular skill is relevant to the organisation, they may be more inclined to take it seriously and commit themselves to learning it.



Accessibility also plays a key role in learning and knowledge retention. If people can’t easily access learning materials, for example, it will be more difficult for them to review what was covered in a previous lesson – increasing the likelihood that they’ll forget that information as time goes on.

Learning management systems and other solutions can increase accessibility and ensure employees can always get their hands (literally or figuratively) on resources that help them understand specific concepts, develop certain skills, etc.

You can also increase accessibility by delivering material in multiple formats and catering to different learning styles. For example, some people learn better by working alone and reading information to themselves, whereas others learn better through discussion and debate.



During his research, Ebbinghaus explored the idea of overlearning and its impact on memory. Essentially, overlearning involves putting more effort than you usually would into learning a new concept.

How can you encourage overlearning among your employees? It fits in very well with other strategies and solutions mentioned above, such as spaced learning and regular repetition.

By providing more opportunities for team members to review previously covered material, you make it easier for them to put in more effort and see better learning outcomes – without necessarily feeling like they’re putting in tons of work.


Continuous Challenge

Repetition plays an essential role in learning and memory formation. At the same time, though, it’s also important to avoid making your lessons so repetitive that your employees check out and stop paying attention. If that happens, they will be more likely to forget what they’ve learned, which takes you back to square one.

You must strike a balance between repetition and challenging your team members with new information, skills, etc. If they feel sufficiently challenged, they’ll be more engaged and inclined to participate, which, in turn, can help them with lesson retention.

You can also create new challenges for your employees with tools like quizzes and learning assessments. Giving people an opportunity to test their knowledge helps them (and you) to identify gaps and figure out what topics they need to spend more time on in the future.

Keep in mind that, in the same way that everyone learns differently, everyone responds differently to tests and quizzes. Consider using different styles of learning assessments, such as verbal quizzes, written quizzes, group discussions, etc., to evaluate your employees and give them a chance to showcase their knowledge and understanding.



Just because something is clear to you, that doesn’t mean it will be instantly clear to your team members – especially when you’re covering information that is new to them.

Strive for clarity when preparing lessons and delivering information to your employees.

For example, break down new terms and concepts to make them as simple as possible. Use examples as well to help people understand what these things mean and why they matter.

Remember that the way you deliver information also impacts clarity. Bullet point lists, diagrams, and infographics can help you boil down complex topics to make them simpler and more understandable.

Seek training feedback from your employees to get a better sense of how clear (or unclear) your lessons are. Learning assessments and quizzes can also help you understand if there’s a need for greater clarity on a particular topic.


Interactivity and Immersion

Immersive learning training can also help with memory formation and information retention.

Immersive learning often utilises technology like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to encourage interactivity.

These tools, along with other online interactive learning solutions, give employees an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned to “real-life” scenarios. It’s like a levelled-up version of role-playing that is more fun and creates more opportunities for knowledge testing and application.

If possible, look for ways to make lessons more immersive. Not only will this boost engagement, but it also allows those who may struggle in traditional learning environments to feel more empowered and remember that they are capable of retaining new information and understanding difficult concepts.



If you notice that your employees are struggling to remember certain pieces of information, you might need to repackage that information and teach it in a different way. This is where tools like mnemonic devices come in handy.

Mnemonic devices repackage information and help the brain store it and retrieve it as needed. They often rely on rhymes, songs, and patterns to help people recall certain pieces of information.

A popular example is the mnemonic many people use to remember the order of operations in maths. The word PEMDAS stands for “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” These six words, in turn, represent each step in the order of operations: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.

Work with your team to create mnemonic devices for different concepts that are relevant to their jobs and the specific goals you’re trying to accomplish.

Maybe you have a particular set of steps you want them to follow when writing sales reports, for example. Repackaging that information to make it more memorable will go a long way when it comes to getting everyone on the same page and making sure they all comply with the new requirements.

Final Thoughts

Memory is a tricky thing, and so is helping people remember what you’ve taught them. By keeping the guidelines and learning strategies shared above in mind, you can support your team, make lessons more effective, and overcome the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

Do you need help developing learning materials that are accessible, engaging, interactive, and more likely to help people remember the information shared during a lesson or training session?

At Skillshub we offer bespoke eLearning and an eLearning platform to meet the unique needs of your organisation. With our resources at your disposal, the path to developing learning materials does not have to be difficult! Or, check out our eLearning content today to start developing your skills and making progress toward your goals.

So, if you’re looking to work with an eLearning company to help transform your training and development initiatives, contact us today.

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Sean is the CEO of Skillshub. He’s a published author and has been featured on CNN, BBC and ITV as a leading authority in the learning and development industry. Sean is responsible for the vision and strategy at Skillshub, helping to ensure innovation within the company.

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Updated on: 6 March, 2024

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