Learn More With Less Effort
Learning more efficiently is a matter of time—but not in the way you might think

by Jeff Haden / © 2021, Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


A producer for a television business show called and asked if I was available. He described the theme of the segment and asked if I had any ideas. I offered some possibilities.

  “That sounds great,” he said. “We’re live in 30 minutes. And I need you to say exactly what you just said.” “Ugh,” I thought. I’m not great at repeating exactly what I just said. So I started rehearsing.

  Ten minutes later, he called [back]. I almost asked him if we could postpone that conversation so I could keep rehearsing, but I figured since I had already run through what I would say two times, I would be fine.

  Unfortunately, I was right. I was fine. Not exceptional. Just ... fine. I totally forgot one of the major points I wanted to make.

  Which, according to Hermann Ebbinghaus, the pioneer of quantitative memory research, should have come as no surprise.


The findings

  Ebbinghaus is best known for two major findings: the forgetting curve and the learning curve.

  The forgetting curve describes how new information fades away. Once you’ve “learned” something new, the fastest drop occurs in just 20 minutes; after a day, the curve levels off.*

  Within minutes, nearly half of what you’ve “learned” has disappeared.

  Or not.

  According to Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn, what we learn doesn’t necessarily fade; it just becomes less accessible.

  In my case, I hadn’t forgotten a key point. I just didn’t access that information when I needed it.


Working with our memory

  Ebbinghaus would have agreed with Carey: He determined that even when we think we’ve forgotten something, some portion of what we learned is still filed away. Which makes the process of relearning a lot more efficient.

  As Ebbinghaus writes:

Suppose that [a] poem is [re]learned by heart. It then becomes evident that, although [it seems] totally forgotten, it still in a certain sense exists. The second learning requires noticeably less time or a noticeably smaller number of repetitions than the first.

  That, in a nutshell, is the power of spaced repetition.


View Mansueto Ventures online.



For Further Reading
© 2022 Overseas Radio & Television (ORTV) Inc. All rights reserved.