The Forgetting Curve & Memory
March 2, 2024
The Cringe Podcast - Episode 2 - Matt Cameron
Despite significant investment in sales-training programs worldwide, nearly 70% of the information provided is very likely forgotten within a day and another 10% or more is likely forgotten within a week. 

Discouraging results for sure, but why is this happening and how quickly can we do something about it?

The answer begins with the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, a concept introduced in 1885 by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. His curve illustrates the rapid decline of memory retention if it is not regularly re-enforced in the right way. That “right way” will differ by company and by trainee. Studying the information thoroughly can extend memory and may even solidify some of the content through repeated review and practice. Yet data shows that simply reviewing and practicing the information isn’t enough.

Additionally, sharing information with colleagues who haven’t fully grasped the concepts or who have developed ineffective practices, can inadvertently form and reinforce those practices. 

Is practice with a manager the answer? Not necessarily.

Managers often struggle with role plays because of  their busy schedules and limited access to up-to-date seller/customer information and training. This can result in inconsistent practice and feedback. This inconsistency not only impedes the learning process, but also can contribute to the development and reinforcement of bad habits.

This manager-trainer challenge extends beyond inconsistencies and bad habits. High stakes and stress plague the few opportunities managers have to train with their sellers. This stress can impede memory formation, consolidation, retention, and recall. 

While moderate stress can aid in memory formation, excessive or chronic stress can severely impede memory function, distracting learners’ attention away from the learning concepts completely. For instance, engaging in role playing exercises with a sales leader, or in front of peers can divert the learner’s attention from the training concepts. This is particularly true when learners have not yet developed confidence in the information and their abilities.



So, what is the most effective way to improve the status quo.? 

The key lies in aligning training with adult-learning principles and the concepts of self-directed learning (SDL). 

For example, it is important for sales trainees to have a certain level of autonomy in their learning process. This can be achieved by providing them with opportunities for the consistent practice and feedback directly related to their work. 

By making the training content applicable to real-world selling situations, trainees will be more motivated to learn and apply their knowledge.

The impact of learning is also heavily influenced by factors such as the learner’s attention, the relevance of the material, its real-world meaning and impact on outcomes that significantly improve performance.

When designing training, keep in mind the impact that timing has on memory retention. Learners have a higher propensity to remember the first and last concepts they learn. Breaking up learning into smaller chunks, rather than studying for long periods of time, can improve memory retention. Engaging in shorter, more targeted practice sessions and receiving immediate feedback can effectively boost knowledge retention.

Also, instead of conducting a standard one-hour role play session with feedback, it may  be more effective to divide the conversation into specific areas of focus that are tailored to the learner’s level of mastery and contextual understanding.

Offering learners more opportunities for practice during shorter training sessions, accompanied by meaningful feedback and reflection fosters an environment conducive to memory retention.

Before making a significant investment in sales training, make sure: 

  • The learning materials and approach are meaningful and relevant to your sellers and your market
  • There are opportunities for positive reinforcement through consistent practice and feedback
  • There is a sufficient level of autonomy for sellers 
  • The learning is customized to match the learners’ contextual understanding
  • The training sessions can be divided into smaller segments with breaks for reflection



This content was created by Stefanie Boyer

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