Retention of Learning

Each of the theories of forgetting implies that when a person forgets something, it is not actually lost. Rather, it is simply unavailable for recall. The instructor’s problem is how to make certain that the learner’s learning is readily available for recall. The following suggestions can help.

Teach thoroughly and with meaning. Material thoroughly learned is highly resistant to forgetting. This is suggested by experimental studies and it also was pointed out in the sections on skill learning. Meaningful learning builds patterns of relationships in the learner’s consciousness, which is one reason to conduct SBT. In contrast, rote learning is superficial and is not easily retained. Meaningful learning goes deep because it involves principles and concepts anchored in the learner’s own experiences. The following discussion emphasizes five principles, which are generally accepted as having a direct application to remembering.

Praise Stimulates Remembering

Responses that give a pleasurable return tend to be repeated. Absence of praise or recognition tends to discourage, and any form of negativism in the acceptance of a response tends to make its recall less likely.

Recall Is Promoted by Association

As discussed earlier, each bit of information or action, which is associated with something to be learned, tends to facilitate its later recall by the learner. Unique or disassociated facts tend to be forgotten unless they are of special interest or application.

Favorable Attitudes Aid Retention

People learn and remember only what they wish to know. Without motivation there is little chance for recall. The most effective motivation is based on positive or rewarding objectives.

Learning with All Senses Is Most Effective

Although people generally receive what is learned through the eyes and ears, other senses also contribute to most perceptions. When several senses respond together, a fuller understanding and greater chance of recall is achieved.

Meaningful Repetition Aids Recall

Each repetition gives the learner an opportunity to gain a clearer and more accurate perception of the subject to be learned, but mere repetition does not guarantee retention. Practice provides an opportunity for learning, but does not cause it. Further, some research indicates that three or four repetitions provide the maximum effect, after which the rate of learning and probability of retention fall off rapidly.

Along with these five principles, there is a considerable amount of additional literature on retention of learning during a typical academic lesson. After the first 10–15 minutes, the rate of retention drops significantly until about the last 5–10 minutes when learners wake up again. Learners passively listening to a lecture have roughly a five percent retention rate over a 24-hour period, but individuals actively engaged in the learning process have a much higher retention. This clearly reiterates the point that active learning is superior to just listening.


A mnemonic uses a pattern of letters, ideas, visual images, or associations to assist in remembering information. It is a memory enhancing strategy that involves teaching learners to link new information to information they already know. Its chief value lies in helping learners recall information that needs to be recalled in a particular order by encoding difficult-to-remember information in a way that makes it easier to remember. Research shows that providing learners with memorization techniques improves their ability to recall information. Mnemonics include but are not limited to acronyms, acrostics, rhymes, or chaining.

Acronyms form a word from the first letters of other words. For example, “AIM” is the acronym for Aeronautical Information Manual.

An acrostic is a poem, word puzzle, or other composition in which the first letter of each line or word is a cue to the idea the learner wishes to remember. For example, Every Good Boy Does Fine is used to remember the order of the G-clef notes in music. An example of a useful aviation acrostic is the memory aid for one of the magnetic compass errors. The letters “ANDS” indicate:
  • Accelerate
  • North
  • Decelerate
  • South

Rhymes and melody are another way to remember information. Rhymes such as “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Most children learn the alphabet using a familiar melody “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” A well-known mnemonic rhyme for remembering the days of the month is the familiar, “30 days hath September, April, June, and November...”

Chaining is used for ordered or unordered lists and consists of creating a story in which each word or idea that needs to be remembered cues the next idea.

Variations of the encoding process are practically endless. Developing a logical strategy for encoding information is a significant step in the learning process.

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