What is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve & How to Boost Memory

What is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve & How to Boost Memory

Do you struggle to remember some things that you’ve learned within a short span of time? Like the training session last week, the coursework that you’re embarking on or even the meeting minutes you were supposed to memorise? 

Let’s face it, if you remembered everything that you learned or have been taught, you’d be at a genius level that would make Einstein envious! But worry not. It’s in human nature to forget. This can all be attributed to Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. Understanding how the curve works will help you take action and prevent yourself from forgetting new skills. 


  1. What is the Forgetting Curve?
  2. When, Where, and How Was the Forgetting Curve Developed?
  3. The Importance of Memory Retention
  4. How to Prevent Forgetting and Boost Your Memory
  5. Tips for Trainers: Helping Learners Remember More and Forget Less
  6. Final Thoughts

ebbinghaus forgetting curve graphic

What is the Forgetting Curve?

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve describes the ability to recall information and how it declines over time if not used or reinforced. The curve takes a closer look at the human brain and how it may not retain information for a very long time. Together with a consistent lack of active recall, the curve shows how the rate of forgetting can be modelled and quantified.

This highlights the importance of regular practice in memory retention. Using the best methods to space out learning content and receiving material at regular intervals to help learners better retain information in their long-term memory. 

According to Ebbinghaus, the level of memory retention depends on the following physiological factors:

1. The strength of the memory

People recall stronger memories for long periods than weaker ones. When it comes to training initiatives, the learning content should be relevant to everyone and should combat the forgetting curve. 

2. The time that has passed

Humans tend to forget things rapidly after learning. According to the Ebbinghous forgetting curve, the greatest amount of forgetting occurs within the first hour after learning. A significant portion of the information is often forgotten within the first twenty minutes of learning content – no wonder they say cramming doesn’t help.

After a training session, forgetting curves show that learners forget at an average rate of 90% of what they learn within the first month. If you’ve been wondering why your staff don’t remember what they were taught during basic training, now you know that it’s not necessarily that they weren’t paying attention. 

3. The learning method that was used

For the learning curve to be more memorable, it should have a lot of interactivity and be properly ordered to retain information for longer time periods. It’s best to use considerable variations in training methods so there can be slower forgetting of important aspects. Spaced repetition is one element that has been shown to improve memory retention. However, don’t think that just repeating things is going to be a magical solution – there are studies that show otherwise

4. Level of interference

According to scientific studies, memory performance over the long term is better when participants are allowed to sleep after a continuous learning session rather than when they are sleep-deprived. They say when you learn something new, the best way to remember it is to sleep on it. This is because sleep strengthens memories formed throughout the day and helps in linking new memories to older ones, helping us come up with new thoughts and ideas. 

memory spelled with tiles

When, Where, and How Was the Forgetting Curve Developed?


Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, developed the forgetting curve in the year 1885. 


Ebbinhaus completed his study in his laboratory in the city of Breslau, which was in the east of the German Kingdom. Haven’t heard of it? Well, that’s because today it is known as Wrocław in Poland. Here he worked as a professor at the University of Breslau. 


Ebbinghaus had a theory that memory wasn’t as long-lasting as people thought, but what good is a ‘theory’ for a scientist? To prove the accuracy of this theory, Ebbinghaus carried out experimental psychology on himself to measure his knowledge retention ability of lists of nonsense syllables over an optimum interval.

According to all the data collected, he discovered that he forgot a majority of the information he had learned over a shorter period. His rate of forgetting also followed a predictable curve. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve shows that initially, humans tend to forget information rapidly, but this rate of forgetfulness will slow down over time. 

man solving problems

The Importance of Memory Retention

Memory is an active and subjective reflection process of our previous experiences. It’s related to learning but it shouldn’t be confused with learning itself. Have you ever felt that you are learning, learning, learning, but not remembering anything? Well, you’re not alone. Here are some of the benefits of improving your memory retention: 

1. Learning

Without any knowledge retention, you wouldn’t be able to acquire new knowledge or develop new skills. Learned material helps us to be progressive in different areas of our lives. 

2. Solving problems

Memory retention plays a crucial role in developing problem-solving skills. In this case, memory works by retrieving previously learned information and applying it to new challenges or situations.

3. Communication

Memory retention allows for effective communication. It makes it easy to use words, and phrases related to concepts and recall information that will help us communicate properly. 

4. Personal identity

Memory retention helps in maintaining our personal identity. It enables us to stay actively involved in our experiences, relationships, and achievements; things which are a greater contribution to our sense of self. Memory also offers the possibility of reusing all past and present experiences. This helps in ensuring continuity between what is, what is, and what was going to be. 

5. Health

Memory retention is vital for maintaining good health. Our better memory reminds us to retain important health-related information such as doctor’s appointments, medications, and health conditions. 

6. Career Development

When you memorise information that can help improve your overall knowledge, you become a subject matter expert

This will increase professional credibility in your field. Recalling crucial knowledge will also help you stay organised and grant you a competitive edge in your professional life. 

lady exercising to improve memory retention

How to Prevent Forgetting and Boost Your Memory

There are different ways to help boost your memory and beat the typical forgetting curve. These include:

1. Spaced learning

When you space out your learning over time, you’ll produce slower forgetting rhythms. Spacing gives your brain time to consolidate the information. According to statistics by spaced learning studies, this makes it easy to remember later on. 

2. Practice active recall

Various factors boost memory and help us remember things that we typically forget, active recall is one of the most important. This is trying to recall information from memory without the use of external aids. It’s usually done by reviewing materials and attempting to recall them without looking at them. This technique combats memory loss.

3. Use mnemonic devices

Mnemonic devices are memory devices that will help you recall information more easily. Developing mnemonic representation skills involve the use of visual images, acronyms, and rhymes that relate to the information you want to remember. 

4. Get enough sleep

Sleep consolidates memory. It gives the brain time to process all of the information that you’ve learned throughout the day and stores it in long-term memory. The more rest you get, the better you’ll remember.  

5. Exercise, exercise, exercise!

Regular exercise improves memory function by increasing blood flow to the brain thus promoting the constant growth of new brain cells.

6. Don’t stress out

Too much stress causes psychological harm. When under duress, you’ll lose concentration and your memory may not be at its optimum best. Indulging in techniques like slow breathing, and meditation will help you reduce stress and consequently, memory function. 

By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you’ll be able to boost your memory and its function.

Tips for Trainers: Helping Learners Remember More and Forget Less

As trainers and managers, we have a key role to play in helping learners remember important information and conquer the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. By incorporating these tips into your training sessions, whether it’s for vocational education or workplace learning, you’ll not only create an engaging and memorable learning experience but also empower your learners to remember more and forget less.

1. Embrace spaced repetition

When designing training sessions, it can be easy to try fill the time with as much content as possible. However, we recommend that you iinclude regular breaks for your learners to review and practice the material. This helps the information stick and makes it easier for learners to remember in the long run. 

2. Mix it up with varied training methods

Your students won’t just want to listen all the time. Keep things interesting by incorporating a range of training methods, such as interactive activities, simulations, and discussions. A diverse learning experience is more engaging and memorable for learners.

3. Keep it simple with microlearning

When learning complex topics, like workplace skills, it’s easy to forget parts of them. By breaking down your topics into smaller, bite-sized chunks learners will be able to easily digest and retain knowledge. Focusing on specific goals and reducing cognitive load makes learning more manageable and enjoyable. Microlearning has become very prominent for both vocational education and corporate training. There are even online courses that will allow you to learn micro-credentials, like digital badges, when completing them. This will not only help students retain knowledge for longer, but also boost their resume.

4. Promote active recall

Listening is one thing, but can your students actually use what they’re taught? Encourage learners to practice recalling information without relying on external aids. This can be done through quizzes, flashcards, or group discussions. The more they practice, the better they’ll remember.

5. Bring it to life with real-world examples: 

To make the learning content more relatable and engaging, share real-life examples and case studies. This helps learners understand the practical application of the information they’re learning and see its relevance to their own lives.

6. Support them every step of the way

Make sure learners have access to resources and support beyond the training session. This can include additional materials, follow-up sessions, or even a network of peers and mentors they can turn to for help.

Next read: Check out our 5 tips on how to enhance online learning and assessment.

FAQs About Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

1. How can educators tailor their teaching methods to counteract the effects of the forgetting curve in diverse learning environments?

Educators can combat the effects of the forgetting curve by employing spaced repetition and active recall in their teaching methods, ensuring that information is reviewed at increasing intervals to enhance long-term memory retention.

2. What role does sleep play in combating the natural decline of memory retention described by the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve?

Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation, which can help mitigate the forgetting curve. Adequate sleep after learning helps solidify memories, making the information more resistant to forgetting.

3. Are there any significant differences in how the forgetting curve affects short-term vs. long-term memory retention?

The forgetting curve primarily impacts short-term memory retention, with its effects being more pronounced shortly after learning. Long-term memory, however, can be strengthened through repeated exposure and meaningful association, making it less susceptible to the curve’s impact over time.

Final Thoughts

There you have it. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve in all of its glory. Granted, not all memories follow the same curve. The various factors we’ve aforementioned will influence how strong our memories are. In a nutshell, enforce regular training and create meaningful and interactive learning experiences. This way, you’ll be off to an excellent start!

If learning about this has excited your interest in learning theories, there are plenty more you can read about. At Cloud Assess we have compiled guides on many of the most popular learning theories in our learning category. Some of these include:

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