May 14, 2011

Ebbinghaus or the Curves on why we just keep forgetting

Recently I came across the Ebbinghaus Curve aka the Forgetting Curve - interesting because my boss oftens laments  about how people can be trained in an improved SOP or new process, and then after a year or so they seem to have forgotten, and there is a risk of quality issues.

And to be honest, if someone catalogs a complex list of instructions on how to drive to a distant location, I find it often just doesn't gel with me. I much prefer simple written instructions, with the added visual component of a street directory. So far I haven't done much with GPS systems either to be honest.

So I've been intrigued by Nick Milton of Knoco Stories, who for years has been running a training program called the Bird Island Exercise, which is all about remembering & forgetting. Recently I re-discovered one of Nick's posts on his Bird Island Exercise from a year ago - where he shared the following insights :

"This result reinforces recognition of the frailty of human memory as a long term knowledge store, and therefore the need to support that memory through some sort of capturing and recording. Even 6 months is too long to leave knowledge in memory alone. We need to be capturing it as we go, even as an aide memoire, otherwise we lose it.

And when we come to use it again, we find we retain just enough to be dangerous."

Nick Milton also shared more on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve in his The Gorilla Illusions post - by the way have you ever heard of the Invisible Gorilla Experiment ?

I also liked Nick's post on The Self Aware Organisation - it seems to resonate with many of the concepts in Professor James Reason's High Performance Organizations.

And around the same time of Nick's Remembering & Forgetting post, Harold Jarche also shared his thoughts on Ebbinghaus & the Forgetting Curve - Learning & Forgetting - on how much we remember after training & memorisation - and how quickly we can lose it.

Professor James Reason has also had some interesting thoughts on Human Errors - which seem to accord with the Forgetting Curve as shared in my organization's OHS awareness sessions. 

Some of these ideas are also echoed in a preso by ACTKM's David Williams "How do you get people to read and understand stuff?" - it's on Slideshare - which holds some very interesting preso's on Knowledge Management which are freely  available for download. David's thoughts are salient when one considers the increasing volume, length & complexity of SOP's - Standards Operating Procedures - as they try to cover every possible scenario. 

Then Benedict Carey (NYT) reviewed ideas that turn traditional thought on studying, learning & retention on its head.

I have to review my organization's procedure for writing standard procedures - so there could be some good inspiration in there, for what is arguably quite a dry subject, but nonetheless very crucial. 

I've always liked the Gunning Fog approach to understandability of one's writing - some find it too geeky with its equation for simplicity/complexity of writing.

I find it interesting because of the strong focus on Corporate "Storytelling" in Knowledge Management circles in Australia in recent years as opposed to CMS - Content Management Systems.  In fact CMS can really support SME's (Subject Matter Experts) to effectively manage their  PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) systems - for more effective recall & Knowledge Sharing, and so to share via tools such as Corporate "Storytelling". My organization's SSO's (Significant Safety Occurrence shared stories & learnings) are in fact a good example of embedded Corporate Storytelling in my opinion.

See my Diigo Shared Bookmarks & Google Reader RSS feed items for more Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve links.


KerrieAnne Christian said...

More Ideas from @knoco Nick Milton on Knowledge Retention

KerrieAnne Christian said...

following on from my previous comment on Learning & Forgetting / Ebbinghaus :

I found this interesting Viewpoint in PM Network June 2011 issue p 20 by Bud Baker of Wright State University Dayton Ohio - he quotes Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel on forgetting rather than learning..

Is organizational amnesia inevitable ? Are there Opportunities to capture & share Organizational Learnings into Management Systems eg wiki's, special manuals ?

Organizational Amnesia = the Repeated Loss of Corporate Memory - even if learnings have been repeatedly documented - so lessons are forgotten only to require relearning later and at great cost

Comments that google Organizational Learning and you will find 4.5 million references however Organizational Forgetfulness only brings up 1/10 of the references !

He suggests 4 causes :
1. Normal personnel turnover averages a 20 year cycle - corporate memory takes a severe hit every 20 years or so

2.Change in Leadership Priorities - departing leaders' priorities suffer through a period of benign neglect until eventually confined to the scrap heap. What gets forgotten is that past priorities arose for good reasons eg a past disaster - now lost in mists of organizational history - until the next catastrophe revives it

3. Where a leader has been discredited - and quickly purged but need to consider that not all the leader's ideas / processes were bad = more organizational amnesia

4. Giving only lip service to lessons learned - in project management there may be lessons learned to be captured but other urgent tasks will often take priority over collecting, organizing & transmitting lessons learned

Any other thoughts on this ?

KerrieAnne Christian said...

Beyond Reporting - Exploiting Passive Information for Learning not Forgetting - What do others think of this ?

Also in Jun 2011 PMI Network p19 - by Lynda Bourne of Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd, Australia (PhD RMIT)

Be Warned ! The Information in reports is passive & you can't assume anyone will read, understand or use it !

Key Takeaways -

Understand who are the key stakeholders
Determine the reason you need to communicate with them
Need a strategy & process to maximise effectiveness of communication with these key stakeholders

Reports are not Communication - they have useful information & a data repository

To transform a report into Communication you need to deliver it in person or attach a note to highlight specific issues
- and you need to seek a specific response otherwise you are just forwarding a message which you have no idea if it has arrived, been seen or understood

Yuvindar Kochar of Washington Post VP IT Technology Group warns of information overload and advises IT Project Managers to identify the few key issues and delve into them more deeply. He also uses Wikis to allow efficient access to important information - refer PM Network June 2011 p 43 (KC note - may work for IT Technology focused company but others less so, may be slow wiki adopters!)

KerrieAnne Christian said...

From: Andrew Warland in the Records Management Association of Australia community on LinkedIn - an item he picked up from the US RM Listserv - Learning Online vs Learning from Paper - which is better ?

All around the world, researchers and experts in literacy, memory and cognition, verbal learning, neuroscience and human communication are examining the question of whether information is better assimilated by reading on paper or on screen. Jakob Nielsen, a web usability expert noted that: "The online medium lends itself to a more superficial processing of information, you're just surfing the information; it's not deep learning."1

The article can be found here:
by R. Stephen Richards
President & CEO - Richards & Richards, Nashville, TN