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How I Forget Things ?

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I've been fascinated in Ebbinghaus ever since the OU introduced me to his work. I've come to believe that this is a generalisation. Like all populations there are outliers: in this case, those who are better able to hold onto information and those who are not. I am on the 'do not' end of the scale. A lecture or class followed by review and homework and testing, then further prompts and exams worked for me. Anything less and I lose it. I don't concentrate enough in the class or lecture anyway, even note taking becomes mechanical.

This work offers explanations and methods.

REad the short paper by 'The Forgetting Curve' by Dr John Whitman 


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Proud and happy to call myself a 'Master of Arts'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 29 Oct 2014, 14:13
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Mr Kung Fu - was he the master or the pupil?

When I completed enough modules early last year to graduate as a 'Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education' I felt like a fraud; I'd scraped through, more importantly I didn't feel I was 'fluent' enough in the subject. One module, H817 had been replaced and had felt a little dated at the time. This is why I've ended up doing a couple more MA modules from the MAODE - I have only one missing from the full set (H817 Open) which I may do in due course. I could even put it towards an M.Ed (Masters degree in Education) for which I also need the compulsory 60 point module Educational Enquiry which next registers a year from now. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2 The forgetting curve

Confidence to call myself a 'Master' and belief by others that I know my subject led me to being asked to join the Open University advisory panel on the MAODE and in the same week to join the board of advisors for a national educational body that recently met. Now I feel I have enough of 'the knowledge' at my fingertips. I prepared for this first meeting my searching through this blog: it shouldn't surprise me to know how much I'd forgotten, studying why and how we forget is very much a part of education - it is summed up in the Forgetting Curve (fig.2) that Hermann Ebbinghaus thought up over a hundred years ago. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.3. SatNav (not me)

It intrigues me that no gadget we own can circumvent this: that in fact, take a SatNav for example, let's assume that it takes you on a journey in the correct direction. Let's say you keep using the SatNav regardless. You could probably turn it off after two or three of these trips as your brain lays down the landmarks in your longterm memory. Thinking of which, I think the SatNav makes an excellent model for e-learning; just image you need to learn 120 absolute facts as a junior doctor - you could have your SatNav 'peg' the facts to specific points of a familiar journey. When you sit the exam it's then as easy as driving this route in your mind's eye visualisation everyone of the facts along the way.

I wander, cloud like.

I'm writing up my notes from this national advisory panel and over the next four years can hopefully nod at the courses that appear on which I've had some influence. Still not there yet, but I'm one heck of a long way further on since February 2010 when I re-booted this malarkey.

The answer has to be a P.hD. And I guess the only place to do that would be with the Open University. I went off the boil on that one a year ago, though I did secure a couple of interviews but came away suitably crushed.

It will have taken by then, at least ten years, more like 12 or 13, to call myself a 'Digital Scholar'.

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Learning Curves and Forgetting Curves

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 Nov 2012, 18:08

I've not come across Ebbinghaus in any of the three modules of the MAODE I have thus far studied (Ivan Illich and Wendy Becker have interesting things to say too).


After some number of repetitions, Ebbinghaus would attempt to recall the items on the list. It turned out that his ability to recall the items improved as the number of repetitions went up, rapidly at first and then more slowly, until finally the list was mastered.

This was the world's first learning curve.

The effect of over learning is to make the information more resistant to disruption or loss.


For example, the forgetting curve for over learned material is shallower, requiring more time to forget a given amount of the material.

I relate to this and having taken many exams in my life it is useful at last to have some terms to refer to it all. The only exam I have ever had to resit should have been the easiest, not the finals of a BA (Hons) as an Oxford Undergraduate (or the entrance exam which was tough enough), but a Level II Teaching Swimming Multi-choice paper that took an hour. I simply hadn’t put in the time, say six hours over as many days, repeating by writing it out and testing myself.



Whilst in an exam the student may forget, there are exams where you want them to retain the information: junior doctors, health & safety in a nuclear power plant, or one I was involved with 'the packing and storage of uranium trioxide'.

Savings is the most sensitive test of memory, as it will indicate some residual effect of previous learning even when recall and recognition do not.

Which is what I just did, three weeks after the event.

If I go to the website where I stored the original mind–maps and lists I know that I could quickly re–engage with the material. Like riding a bike, windsurfing or skiing? Though not recalling the lines of Mercutio from Romeo & Juliette which I performed in my late teens. I can however recite some Macbeth, but only because I have repeatedly tested myself on the lines since my mid–teens).

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