By: Karla Gutierrez

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October 9th, 2014

These Are The Reasons Why Learners Forget Your Training

corporate training

"Training doesn’t help one jot if people can’t remember it in the real world"  —Teresa Ewington

Our biggest goal in training is to get students to remember the material. In order to do this more effectively, it helps to understand exactly what causes the mind to forget things. By understanding what makes a person forget, we can incorporate things into our programs that help counteract those causes. 

Forgetting is an important function. It helps a human filter out trivial things that would clog the brain and override important information. Forgetting helps ease pain of tragedy and enables a person to continue living without constant sadness. There are times, however, when we not only need to remember, but need to do so at a time when the information is useful. Let's take a look at the five most common reasons your corporate learners forget your training.


Reason #1: Encoding Failure (Learner Didn't Pay Attention to Content) 

This is the most common cause of forgetting. Basically, the information never actually made it to the person's memory bank. This happens when a student fails to focus on what is being taught. Maybe they had other things on their mind that day or the material simply wasn't engaging enough to capture their attention. Another reason for not paying attention is that the student didn't see a reason for learning this information; it didn't seem to have a purpose related to the subject at hand. This encoding failure can also occur when someone is being presented with too much information all at once, causing them to have to pick and choose what the brain will retain.

Reason #2: Interference

It is known that recent things we learn are more easily remembered than older information. If both sets of information on the same subject, the newer memories may make it harder, if not impossible, to remember the older ones on the same subject. This is called retroactive interference. If the original information is so strong that it makes learning new information on the subject difficult, it is referred to as proactive interference. This can happen because the first information we learn on a subject is more deeply ingrained and anything that might counteract or clash with that understanding becomes difficult to retain.

Reason #3: Shallow Processing

Deep processing occurs when meaning is placed on the material being learned. When a student can find a reason to retain the information, when an emotion is connected to the material or when more than one sense is used in learning, the memory gains staying power and is more easily brought forth when needed. If the material can't be connected to a sense or a feeling, the processing is shallow and it does not stay in the brain for any length of time because the brain considers it unimportant and will make room for things it considers more relevant.

Reason #4: What Versus How

Say you are teaching a student the workings of a motor. You can show them a diagram of a motor and explain what the various parts are or you can place a motor in front of them and have them assemble the motor step by step, explaining how each piece fits the whole. The student will more likely remember the second method because the mind is more eager to understand the how and why of something rather than simply accepted what is. By helping a student understand the reasoning behind a concept or the role a concept plays in the subject matter as a whole, it tells the brain the material is important and must be remembered.

Reason #5: Decay or Disuse 

The brain tends to take information that isn't used regularly and replace it with material it knows a person needs. Think back to high school geometry. Unless you are an architect or work in some other profession where you need precise angles and such, you don't remember all those formulas for figuring out the various areas of shapes and angles. Your mind needs to regularly go over information previously learned or it places the information in a bin marked useless and locks it away from easy memory. The more ways something is gone over, the more it stays in memory. That is one reason unit reviews and chapter quizzes are so helpful. They bring the material out of hiding and make sure the brain knows you want that information retained

As eLearning professionals, it is almost as important to understand how the human mind forgets as it is to understand memory. Both concepts are part of the same coin and must be addressed together to make a program as successful as possible.

Here are some essential reads to start helping your corporate learners overcome forgetting:

Free eBook: A Quick Survival Guide for Modern elearning Designers


Why Do We Forget. Student Academic Resource Center

Explanations for Forgetting by Kendra Cherry, Psychology Expert

About Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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