Ebbinghaus was a pessimist

ebbinghausMore than a hundred years ago, Hermann Ebbinghaus formulated the forgetting curve, which describes the relationship between memory and time. During a lecture, if your absorption rate is at 100 percent on day one, there is a 50-80 percent loss of learning from the second day onward, which is reduced to a retention rate of just 2-3 percent at the end of thirty days.

The forgetting curve is so unforgiving that if it applied to all learning, you’d question the value of investing time in learning at all. But Ebbinghaus’s findings don’t really apply to most learning situations.

Ebbinghaus measured the retention of random numbers. This is explicit knowledge. He learned by concentration, entirely on his own.

Ebbinghaus’s list of numbers to memorize don’t connect to anything else. Yet most learning is exactly that: connecting new concepts into existing frameworks.

Most learning comes from experience. I retain lessons learned in the company of doing things with others.

I wonder what the forgetting curve for tacit information looks like. I hope I can retain more than 3% of the lessons of experience I gain in concert with others.