After all the many hours of eLearning content development and design we have done as eLearning professionals, the most important objective is to ensure our learners retain and apply what they’ve learned to memory. In this post, I want to go over the Forgetting Curve, how it applies to your eLearning courses, and give some ideas to create sticky eLearning content.

What is the Forgetting Curve?

The Forgetting Curve was created by a German scientist named Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1880. He began to study the way the forgetting process works. The theory is still used today. For example, in an article in Elearning! Magazine, Candy Osborne found, “50% of what we learn is forgotten in one hour; 80% after two days; and 90% after 31 days.” That is a significant decline in our memory retention. After two days, we retain only 80% (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: The Forgetting Curve. Image Credit – Elearning! Magazine

The Science of the Forgetting Curve

In an article in Learning Solutions Magazine, Art Kohn addresses this research from  the angle of brain science. He suggests holding booster events because learners retain a higher percentage of vital information. Why does this work? Art Kohn says, “…your brain wants to retain information that is useful to you and purge information that is not. And so, if you happen to call that information into your mind in the hours and days after training, your brain tags that information as important and is more likely to retain it. If you use it, you won’t lose it!”


This research reminds me of a book I recommend reading called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Dieby Chip and Dan Heath. The book is all about how we communicate to optimize memory retention and strives to find the best way to make ideas stick. One of my favorite parts of the book is how memory retention is like Velcro. If you know how Velcro works, it has tons of tiny hooks on one side and connecting loops on the other. When you put it together, it sticks because of the collective strength of the hooks and loops. Likewise, with memory retention, the more “memory hooks” or memory opportunities you provide for your learner, the more they will remember.


What Does This Mean for Corporate eLearning Content?

“If your goal is to produce long-term retention, and if your goal is to produce behavior change, then what you do after training is more important than what you do during training.” – Art Kohn

Mr. Kohn feels there can be more learning opportunities after eLearning content delivery. Depending on the content, a series of booster events may be a beneficial strategy. The reality is if you do nothing after training, everything created will be lost. According to Kohn, “If you provide your learners with booster events in the hours and days after training you can reshape their forgetting curve.” For example, a booster event could be a multiple choice quiz that causes the learner to recall the information and reset the Forgetting Curve. The idea is that the more strategic booster events held the move the forgetting curve will be reset, maximizing long-term retrieval. (See Figure 2 and 3)

Figure 2: A booster event “re-sets” a learner’s forgetting curve. Image credit – Learning Solutions Magazine

Figure 3: A series of booster events maximizes long-term retrieval. Image Credit – Learning Solutions Magazine

Note: You may want to limit booster events to 2-4 instances after content delivery. Another thing to keep in mind, is booster events are not just for a particular quiz question or topic, they are meant for the entire eLearning experience.

Ideas to Increase Sticky eLearning Content

Beyond the idea of booster events, here are a few ideas to create more opportunities to hook your learners memory.

1. Let the learners know why they need the information in the eLearning course. This keeps the learner more engaged in high-level information. It also creates a more memorable experience. As well, you can include eLearning games, quizzes, or interactions. Invite them to give their input with eLearning scenarios so they realize the consequences or benefits of the new information.

2. Entertain your learners with a story. Since the caveman, the use of storytelling has always been a tool for memory retention. Use a story to show the example of a learning situation. Or, open the door to creativity by allowing your learners to be the hero of the story as they go through knowledge checks.

3. After finishing a course module, test them to see how much they now. This will not only help you as an eLearning developer to know the effectiveness of your eLearning course, but it will also let the learners review and put their information into practice right away. Elearning activities, games, and scenarios are fantastic ways to assess the learner’s ability to recall precious information.

4. Give they learners who aren’t grasping the information a chance to review and boost their knowledge. Depending on the subject, test their knowledge a week or month from the original course. Follow-up at the end of their session to get an idea of their progress.

5. Create small elearning chunks or modules, so that you don’t overload their memory. Let the learners to go through the content at their preferred pace, so they don’t have pressure to keep up with their peers. Doing so will give them a chance to absorb all the content.


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