Image of an hourglass by Alexander BodenIs it better to binge on new lessons, or to learn incrementally over time?

If your goal is to retain that knowledge and apply it when new situations require it, studies have shown that your best bet is to learn in smaller doses, and repeat key information over time.

But why?

Doesn’t being exposed to a new fact or a new method automatically embed it in our memory, where we can retrieve it later at will?

As it turns out, the answer is a decisive “no,” because that’s not how human brains are wired.

As a result, educators must overcome a condition that plagues every student: the forgetting curve.

The Forgetting Curve in Action

Image of German psychologist and pioneer of memory studies Hermann EbbinghausThis critical realization was the discovery of psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who helped pioneer the study of human memory over a century ago. As Ebbinghaus and his students found, no matter how interested they are in a subject, people tend to forget new information if it isn’t periodically reinforced.

This explains why you can read an article or watch a video and, if you get quizzed about it immediately afterward, you’ll score well… but if you don’t take that exact same quiz until ten days later, your score will often drop because you’ve already begun to forget some of that new information.

Logically speaking, this makes sense. After all, there’s only so much available space in our mental hard drives, so our brains are optimized to quickly recall what repetition and habit have proven to be “important” while everything else that seems less essential gets pushed aside.

This means that if we want to learn a new technique or remember a barrage of facts and figures, we’re best served by reintroducing those key points on a regular basis after we first encounter them.

For content creators, this means you can help your learners retain your lessons through the following reinforcement tactics.

How to Beat the Forgetting Curve

Highlight new concepts, terms, glossary words, etc., when they’re first introduced, and then include them in subsequent lessons or chapters as a means of reinforcement.

Introduce your students to the basics of a new concept first, and then build on it in subsequent lessons to show how the basics lead to advanced applications. This is more effective than cramming the entire arc of a lesson into one nonstop session.

Offer multiple methods for students to practice new concepts or techniques—especially through hands-on exercises that give them an opportunity to apply recently-learned information in a new context that reinforces its relevance.

Include “refresher” references to earlier concepts within later lessons, so students who may vaguely recall seeing earlier mentions of a relevant term, name, process, etc., will have their attention pointedly drawn to it once again.

Use multiple forms of media to introduce and reinforce new concepts, which provide numerous ways for a student to recall and “re-remember” the information later. For example, you could introduce a new concept (like photsynthesis) with a text definition and a how-to video, and then reinforce it later in a subsequent lesson by incorporating it into an interactive flashcard that depicts its use within a larger context (like ecology).

How Can CourseArc Help?

CourseArc was designed to put the power of rich media learning at your fingertips.

We make it easy to include audio, video, polls, quizzes, and other student-centric media in each module. This means you can use a variety of methods to keep your lessons fresh and interesting, and to remind students of past concepts through new media formats.

CourseArc also includes several tools that help students learn and remember new terminology. Features like highlighting, linking to pop-ups for definitions and examples, drag-and-drop exercises for practice, and flashcards for review each provide new opportunities for students to learn and use new vocabulary and terms.

Our course creators also have access to a variety of teaching methods and multiple options for presenting new content. These include interactive exercises that encourage the practice of key concepts, self-checks and practice activities, and quizzes that include contextual feedback with every answer. This helps users build courses that can grow in complexity while providing helpful callbacks to big ideas and key concepts that were learned in earlier lessons.

Watch our demo video and see what CourseArc can help you create for your students!

Image of hourglass by Alexander Boden via Flickr Creative Commons License