What is forgetting curve?

Posted by Greten on 11 Feb 2023 under Terms

There are various statistics about how humans forget and remember knowledge. For example, according to one estimate, people tend to forget 70% of what they learn in training within 24 hours, while another estimate mentioned that people forget 90% of what they learn within 30 days.

While none of these statistics is entirely accurate, they demonstrate that the rate of forgetting is highest immediately following learning. The specific fraction of forgotten information varies greatly depending on various factors, such as the type of content, the individual's prior knowledge and learning strategies, and the amount of effort they put into retaining the information.

Vector graphic of a women who seem to have forgotten something while looking at a book case.

Individuals may use elearning to study at their own pace and have flexible access to course content. However, despite its convenience, learners may loss the knowledge they acquired from elearning over time if it is not appropriately reinforced. This is due to the forgetting curve.

Forgetting learning over time

The forgetting curve is a graphical representation of the decline of learning retention over time. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist and educational theorist, developed the concept of the forgetting curve in the late 1800s by conducting an experiment involving memorizing random and nonsense syllables.

The forgetting curve characterizes how a person forgets newly acquired knowledge over time. The curve shows that an individual will remember most of the information shortly after learning it but gradually forget it as time passes. The rate of forgetting is highest in the first few hours or days after learning, but it gradually decreases with time.

The graph of the forgetting curve showing several curves of knowledge retention at y-axis and time at x-axis. All lines are curving downward but for each repetition, more information is retained. Solid curve represents what the learners remember and dashed lines represent the trajectory of the curve if no reinforcement was made.

The shape of the forgetting curve depends on the type of content being learned, the individual's prior knowledge, and the study and retention tactics used. However, the essential idea is that memories fade unless reinforced and developed regularly through repetition. This is why learners tend to remember knowledge and skills put in immediate and regular use after the training, such as training on using a new production process or a new software application to accomplish a task.

Understanding the forgetting curve is critical for educators and trainers because it affects instructional design.

Repetition mitigates forgetting curve

While there are many ways to mitigate the forgetting curve, they all operate based on the process called spaced repetition. This process ensures the reinforcement of content and long-term retention.

The forgetting curve is commonly used in educational psychology to demonstrate why repetition and active recall are vital components of effective learning. It also has the same effect on learners who utilize asynchronous online learning and those who attend virtual classrooms as it does on traditional, in-person learners.

In asynchronous e-learning, where learners may access course materials at their own pace, they have the option to revisit the material regularly to fully retain it. Asynchronous e-learning platforms may also send reminders and notifications to learners to urge them to return and reinforce the content. By doing so, learners can overcome the effects of the forgetting curve and retain knowledge for a more extended period.

Learner browsing microlearning on mobile phone while eating cake at a cafe.

In a virtual classroom, the forgetting curve may set in if learners do not review or reinforce their material in a virtual classroom setting on a timely basis. Suppose a virtual classroom lesson is presented, but there is a significant delay between the class and the next opportunity for reinforcement. In that case, learners may have forgotten much of the information by the time the reinforcement occurs.

Similar to asynchronous online learning and traditional classrooms, educators can utilize methods such as spaced repetition, interleaved practice, and review sessions to help students recall content and lessen the effect of the forgetting curve in a virtual classroom. Additionally, dynamic and engaging learning activities such as gamification, simulations, and discussions can help learners actively connect with the knowledge, boosting their chances of retention.

Microlearning as means of learning repetition

Microlearning is a method of providing learning information in little, bite-sized chunks. Microlearning modules can be very useful in providing spaced repetition and reinforcing learning to minimize the forgetting curve. Each microlearning unit contains knowledge that is small, focused, and manageable, allowing learners to retain and recall material more quickly.

Microlearning encourages spaced repetition and active recall, essential for long-term memory retention. Furthermore, microlearning allows students to access content on their own time, making it easier to review and reinforce what they've learned before it fades from memory. Overall, microlearning can help learners overcome the effects of the forgetting curve and recall material for extended periods by providing quick, targeted bursts of learning and numerous opportunities for reinforcement.


The forgetting curve demonstrates how information retention falls over time unless reinforced. The rate of forgetting is highest immediately following learning, with the precise proportion dependent on factors such as the type of content, the individual's prior knowledge, and study practices.

Both asynchronous e-learning and virtual classrooms can be affected by the forgetting curve, and techniques such as spaced repetition, review sessions, and interactive learning activities can help relieve it.

Microlearning, a method of delivering learning content in little, digestible chunks, can also aid in minimizing the forgetting curve by allowing for spaced repetition and active recall, helping learners remember knowledge for extended periods.


Last updated on 11 Feb 2023.

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Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning