The Forgetting Curve: The Decline of Memory Retention Over Time

 Everyone has at some point or another experienced the frustration that comes with forgetting—whether it be a minor slip, like an item at the grocery store, or something more significant, like what the boss said at that meeting.

The Forgetting Curve

In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus developed a formula for the decline in memory retention and then conducted a study to prove his theory. He discovered that forgetting is exponential, with a shockingly rapid rate of memory decline occurring just minutes after instruction. 


Ebbinghaus’ formula was based on two fundamental concepts:

  1. The strength of memory, which is unique to each individual, and
  2. The amount of time that has passed since learning.

Despite a few flaws in his theory—it doesn’t reflect everyone because some people have extremely good memories while others are constantly forgetting things—Ebbinghaus was able to provide clarity to the somewhat foggy area of knowledge retention rates. His findings have been widely accepted as the general theory for how we learn and retain information.

Consider these two factoids (source):

  • Around 15 million people will let a cup of tea or coffee go cold today.
  • 12 million people will enter a shop today only to completely forget what they went there for.

These are minor annoyances, but they serve to illustrate the point that the forgetting curve is fairly steep. In fact, Ebbinghaus found that after two days, only 25% of information is retained. There have been other studies that found the forgetting curve is even steeper than that, with 75% of information lost after just 24 hours and 90% gone after one week. 

When you’re talking about knowledge transfer and training within your business, that’s translates to a whole lot of wasted time, resources, and energy.

Some Good News—There are Strategies to Combat this Problem

First, you need to know and understand that people forget—it’s a part of life.

British psychologist and noted author Jeremy Dean said, “Many researchers think that memory has a limitless capacity. Everything is stored in there but, without rehearsal, memories become harder to access. This means it’s not the memory that’s ‘going-off,’ but the ability to retrieve it.”

You need to combat the forgetting curve with just-in-time information to provide targeted access to up-to-date knowledge and skill requirements at the moment of application.

The solution isn’t to improve the ability to retain information; it’s to improve the ability to retrieve the information you need when you need it.

The Retrieve Mission

At Retrieve, our mission is to help companies improve performance by allowing users to find and access information at any time, from anywhere. Retrieve has transformed the way companies overcome the job-specific knowledge retention issue that is prevalent across functions and industries. We do this by providing access to expert knowledge on demand in a searchable format. Sprinkle in some innovative communication functionality and you have a tool that makes a big difference to everyone who uses it.

Now you may be thinking that you could simply use the company intranet, your learning management system, or video-sharing websites—or some combination—for this purpose. But when you consider the following three key requirements, none of those options fits the bill:

  1. Secure distribution: You need to protect your IP and control the dissemination of proprietary customer- and employee-facing content.
  2. Granular searchability: It’s not enough to just house the content; you need to make it very easy for users to find exactly what they need in the moment they need it, right down to the relevant 45-second clip within a 90-minute video, for example.
  3. Collaborative features: Go beyond one-way information consumption with collaboration and productivity tools.

Try Retrieve for yourself—for free. You should sign up now. You know, before you forget. 

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