“What I hear, I forget; what I see, I remember; but what I do, I understand.” – Confucius
The truth is, verbal education is completely ineffective1. The material may be interesting and valuable, but when acquired verbally, through a lecture, presentation or conversation, knowledge is literally in one ear and out the other – making it impossible for employees, prospects, customers, and other stakeholders to use what you’ve told them. Why? Because, as humans, forgetting is in our nature.
Why We Fail to Retain Information
Forgetting does not make a person less intelligent or less effective than their peers. Dr. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California2 is an expert in memory study and has developed several theories on why people forget, including:
Retrieval Failure: The memory is there, but we struggle to access it. Known as trace decay, this theory speculates that our brains create pathways to memories, but over time, those pathways become difficult to uncover, much like buried treasure that gets more difficult to find as nature grows around the original landscape.
Interference: This is a conflict between two sets of information. Old information and new information get mixed up in your brain, making memory retrieval more difficult.
Storage Failure: Our brains do not and cannot store every piece of information we take in. If we did, we’d become overloaded. We naturally grab onto details we find more interesting or important.
These are just a few of the ways in which we are hard-wired to forget most of what we learn in our everyday lives.
How Quickly Do We Forget?
No one is immune to forgetting what we learn through verbal education. In fact, we humans forget most of what we learn, and we forget it quickly. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus helped quantify the way we lose information in what he called the “forgetting curve.”3 His findings: the more time passes, the more we forget – and forgetting begins almost instantly after taking in information.
According to Ebbinghaus, within one hour, people forget nearly 50% of what was presented to them. Within 24 hours, they forget 70%, and within one week, nearly 90% is lost. At the end of one month, the average person only retains 2-3% of the new information they learned4.
This is extremely problematic when it comes to training and developing a workforce, or educating customers on new products and services. The forgetting curve means that nearly all of the time and money invested transferring information to stakeholders verbally goes down the tubes – and fast. From even those most well-planned and interesting training sessions, to exciting and engaging sales presentations, the simple fact is the listeners won’t remember the details of what they heard.
Are We All Doomed?
There are methods that people can employ to help improve information retention like mnemonic techniques and repetition. However, it is nearly impossible to incorporate these devices into traditional, verbal education. In order to improve retention, the information must be repeated within days, and it must be repeated often – a logistical nightmare when it comes to developing scalable knowledge transfer practices.
That doesn’t mean that we are all doomed to forget everything we learn. Business leaders need to come to terms with two facts:
1. Transferring knowledge verbally is completely ineffective. It’s a waste of time and resources for the business and the stakeholders.
2. With verbal education off the table, businesses must embrace different techniques to put their knowledge in the right hands.
Thankfully, there are systems that exist that are much more efficient and effective transferring knowledge. These programs are easy to navigate and access from virtually anywhere there’s Internet connection, and targeted to specific stakeholder audiences, for the ultimate resonance. For businesses, it’s game changing: the right information in the right hands, any time of the day or night, without the waste and inefficiency of a person conveying the knowledge. A better service for stakeholders and better results for businesses. It’s win-win.