Learning and forgetting curve

Learning and forgetting curve

Do you know what the learning process of a skill looks like? How to do it – to remember forever, make it not be forgotten? Learning and forgetting have not linear relationships. Whatever you do, whether you learn foreign languages, play soccer, or do anything else, you probably notice a certain characteristic relationship. If you observe your abilities objectively, you know, that it is hard at first. You are aiming for a certain skill level that you are not able to achieve. And the other side of the coin. If you stop using a certain skill – slowly, you forget gradually. So what does learning and forgetting look like? The answer is the learning and forgetting curve.

How do we learn?

Answer is in learning and forgetting curve. You start something new, you are fascinated by a new skill, knowledge or sport. You start to learn it. Even though you are enthusiastic and train every day, your skills do not grow as you wish. While at the very beginning you think, that there is a lot of progress, after some time you realize, that this progress is not what you would like it to be. Well, it is not linear. This does not mean that you gain the same amount of knowledge every day. You gain knowledge in a sense by leaps and bounds. It depends of course also on the field. In a short period of time, learning is more or less like the diagram. Jump first, then a certain loss of knowledge, then stagnation. Nothing happens and suddenly another jump. Then fall again and stagnate again despite the effort, and so on.

Diagram 1. Learning curve in a short period of time

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The above curve is for a short period of time. So we are progressing, and then for many weeks nothing happens cyclically from jump to jump. Your brain captures and organizes data. You may have the impression, that the amount of knowledge even diminishes at times. Of course, it should be emphasized, that everything also depends on the field we are trying to be a master. What are the conclusions of this chart? Simple. This chart explains where the fiery enthusiasm and unfinished projects of failure of people who are not trained in the “art of learning” come from. We start to do something. The first success you get is euphoria (or not). Then, however, stagnation occurs. There is frustration that you are not making progress. At this point, a certain number of adepts in some field already surrender. I would like to know the data, of course in a certain area, how many percent of people who start learning a certain skill reach a certain form of mastery, and how many and at what times they give up.

The long-term learning curve

A long time, however, gives a different perspective on the learning process. The curve takes a different form. Looking at the entire learning process, it takes place differently, than in the previously described short period of time. Well, in the beginning, progress in relation to all knowledge is small, even though you feel it is very large. At a certain stage, however, the amount of knowledge or skills increases intensively. You are also feeling this progress. At some point, your skills stabilize and they don’t grow as fast anymore. They are high, but progress has been slow. The good news, although, is that you are now headed for a mastery, that you will never reach (at least by definition). The reason is simple – there will probably always be someone better (but let’s not prejudge). This diagram takes the form as shown below.

Diagram 2. The long-term learning curve

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Of course, it may happen that the learning curve will be gradual, eg in the period of going to the championship, there will be another qualitative leap and another acceleration in acquiring knowledge. It largely depends on, what your field of expertise concerns.

What is mastery level?

Good question. It is the level of knowledge or skill at which someone is considered a master. Often, a person who has experienced or acquired knowledge in a given field for 10,000 hours in a given field can be considered a master. I don’t know how true this is. After all, there are different fields of knowledge.

The other side of the coin – the forgetting

The learning curve is one thing, but what about knowledge maintenance? Unfortunately, it is not the case, that we have acquired knowledge for eternity. It would be too good, unfortunately. If we do not preserve or use a given knowledge, then we simply forget it. How is it done. This phenomenon is represented by the so-called forgetting curve (or Ebbinghaus curve) described for the first time by this German psychologist. For the first time, he conducted an experiment, that made memorization permanent (just meaningless clumps of words). Such conglomerates are much more difficult to remember than, for example, names or words that we use every day, e.g. industry words at work. The first conclusion he made was that in the case of an unknown area of ​​knowledge, after 24 hours we can forget 80% of information. Another observation was the fact that the repetition of acquired knowledge causes a return to the original state, but also consolidates the already acquired knowledge. It is nothing new. Current brain researches shows these relationships much better.

Diagram 3. The forgetting curve (percent of knowledge to forget)

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Of course, this curve looks a bit different in the long time. There is no such a sharp decline. If you forget something over a long period of time, you usually have this knowledge well-established, for intance: language skills. The forgetting of well-established knowledge is no longer as sudden as it is in a short period of time.

Why do we need this knowledge

Learning and forgetting curve – it is very important to introduce people, especially children, how do they work – consciousness, that these phenomena are not linear and that the learning process sometimes speeds up and sometimes slows down. If you want to be master any area of ​​knowledge, you must be ready for failure, frustration, stress or resignation. You can’t feel euphoric throughout the whole learning process. You have to be ready for the fact, that you will have periods, when you feel that you are not acquiring knowledge, even though you spend time studying, training, you experiencing effort without success. I often come across the opinion, that if you learn many things at once, then you get small and ultimately you are not able to achieve success (achieve mastery in any of them). Of course, if you were learning skills from 50 different areas, this statement is definitely true. Personally, however, I believe that if you study only a few areas, it has a positive effect on your overall learning. If you get bored of one area, you can jump to another area, especially from theoretical knowledge to e.g. sport. However, the brain gets bored and in order not to waste time looking thoughtlessly at the computer (read: to regenerate), you can jump straight to another area. It is good to learn a few similar subjects in this situation. In my case, I remember that I was good at learning English and German at the same time. Maybe not simultaneously, it is better to start learning one first and the next a little later. You will notice how many analogues you will find and how easier it will be to learn languages. So to sum up – you need to know what the learning curve and the forgetting curve are.

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