Lecture #6: 
Beating the forgetting curve
by Darcy A. Santor 

In 1880, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, conducted the first experiments on retention and forgetting, documenting a very rapid loss of information after just one hour and slightly less in the following hours. He demonstrated that almost 60 of what people try to remember is forgotten by the end of the first day. This loss of information is know as the forgetting curve. The rate at which we forget information has been repeatedly documented since the early experiments in the 1880.   

Our brains are hard wired to forget most of what we learn, unless we do something with that information or that information is extremely  memorable, which is rare. Ebbinghaus made a second extraordinary finding. He should that the rate at which information could be retained could be slowed – almost entirely stopped – simply by rehearsing that information.     

In this lecture, you will learn about active recall and how the acquisition and retention of information can be radically improved by forcing yourself to actively recall what you are trying to retain. Re-reading your notes is not an example of active recall, whereas quizzing yourself is. Quizzing yourself a day or two before the test will help you some, but not nearly as much as quizzing yourself over a number of days. In fact, 60 minutes of studying spaced out over 5 days is  much more effective than 60 minutes of quizzing yourself the day before. 

Neurological studies have shown how spreading out learning improves retention by activating specific brain regions.  Studies have even shown that a range of other species, including bees, benefit from spaced learning.


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