How to boost memory with a communication platform

Human memory is a mysterious thing. False memories, the unmistakable feeling of having forgotten something you definitely know, deja vu; our memory fools us every day, but it is also one of the most important tools we have.

In this article we’ll be diving a bit further into some of the elements of the memory, which are relevant when new information is to be learned and stored. And of course how Academy helps employees attain a high level of knowledge with theories such as spaced repetition and the forgetting curve.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we’ll begin with an unknown size: the memory.

The memory: If you remember, I will forget

When we’re talking about memory, we often distinguish between two different kinds: long-term memory and short-term memory. We also have what is called sensory memory, which is not relevant for the purpose of this article.

The short-term memory works, like the name suggests, with shorter lasting memories. Often this means mere minutes, whereas the long-term memory stores memories that are days, months or years old.

The short-term memory is also referred to as the active memory, since it works with the activity you’re performing right now. It is this memory, which helps you remember a phone number, you just heard, or remember which colour mug you just placed on the table. The short-term memory can work with approx. seven objects simultaneously in adults, but is (like the name suggests) very short lived. 

How short-term memory works:
  • Stores short-term memories
  • Working on what you’re doing right now
  • Can work with approximately 7 objects simultaneously
  • All knowledge and impressions start here, before they are possibly transferred to long-term memory 

The long-term memory, on the other hand, has a nearly unlimited capacity, and is, of course, long lasting. All inputs have to pass through the short-term memory, before being stored in the long-term memory – if they make it that far. 

The long-term memory is made up of several different kinds of memory, for example the procedural memory, which makes it possible for you to remember how to run, which happens subconsciously. The type of memory we’re working with is a sub-set of the declarative memory known as semantic memory. This is used consciously, and makes it possible for you to beat your mother-in-law in Trivial Pursuit by recalling the capital of Georgia. This memory is also called the generic memory. 

How long-term memory works:
  • Unlimited, long-lasting capacity
  • Consists of several types of memories that store knowledge
  • Remembers basic things – like how we run – but also general knowledge like the name of a capital city

Memory requires repetition

So why can’t you always remember what the capital of Georgia is, despite being given the correct answer in geography class in the 7th grade?

Some people are lucky enough to have excellent memories, so they can recall information they’ve only been told once, several years ago. But it is very few people who can pull out answers from the treasure chests of primary school.

For information to be stored in the long-term memory, and thereby be recalled several weeks, months or years later, it needs to be used. Most information of the kind the generic memory handles, has to be repeated to become available. And a lot of these facts will be forgotten, if we don’t use it – especially during the first time period after the new information has been provided. 

Most information needs to be repeated to be accessible.

The Forgetting Curve

Luckily, some very smart people have figured out, that we can measure approximately when an average person will forget the information they have learned. 

This is called The Forgetting Curve, and it illustrates very well when you’re likely to forget how to enter a gift card in the register, if you don’t repeat this information – and how many times, and when, this information should be repeated before it’s stored permanently in the long-term memory.

The curve was formulated for the first time by Hermann Ebbinghaus between 1880 and 1885. Ebbinghaus’ original formula has been replicated as recently as 2015, where the results were confirmed.

The forgetting curve shows that you’ll forget what you’ve just learned really fast. Ideally, you should be repeating information the day after having learned it, then after three days, then weekly and finally monthly.

The more often you repeat the information, the bigger the chance that this information will get lodged deep in the long-term memory.

Out in the real world it’s not always possible to sit and repeat information that often – and especially not when just starting a new job. We’ll get back to this predicament, but first we’re going to write a bit about another component which has a role to play when we’re talking about learning and memory.

The more often you repeat the information, the bigger the chance that this information will get lodged deep in the long-term memory.

Repetition promotes understanding

Spaced repetition and the forgetting curve fit together like hand in glove. Spaced repetition is an evidence based learning technique, which is all about repeating new information more often, while older information is repeated with a longer and longer ‘space’ in between.

This is advantageous for learning, since you learn better when spacing out the intake over a longer period, as opposed to trying to take it all in at once (for example by reading up for an exam only the day before).

You can say that the forgetting curve and spaced repetition are to sides of the same coin: information should be repeated to not be forgotten, and it’s better to spread this out over several repetitions over time, than trying to learn it all at once.

How to store knowledge through a communication platform

On Academy we use both the forgetting curve and spaced repetition to ensure, that the information the employees are presented with will stick.

The training modules on Academy are called certifications, and they’re programmed with both theories in mind. The first time a user has completed a certification, it will be locked for one or seven days, which “forces” spaced repetition into the learning process. When the certification opens again, the user is nudged to complete it again, so the information is repeated – this continues first weekly, then every other week, and finally monthly.

This way we ensure that the information is transferred from the short-term memory to the long-term memory.

It works – all the way out on the floor

In reality, all this means that the information the employees have to learn – either with regards to onboarding or for example when launching a new product or service – will be remembered.

When important basic knowledge is stored safely in the long-term memory, it no longer demands energy or mental capacity to recall this information. It is ready to use, anywhere, anytime. This means, that the employee has the capacity to be confident, to upsell, and that they have the energy to work creatively to help the costumer, guest or the company itself.

This is of course an advantage for both the costumer, the company and the employee themselves. Everybody wins by having knowledgable and confident employees, who can answer all the costumer’s questions and even anticipate them.

Learning stands on the shoulders of motivation and accessibility

As previously mentioned, it’s not as easy as it sounds, getting employees to repeat information at the specific times optimal for learning.

The most important thing in ensuring that information sticks, is, as mentioned, repetition, repetition, repetition. The way to ensure that employees repeat information as many times as possible, is by making the repetition possible and available.

Accessibility is ensured by moving the training over on the employee’s court. With a mobile-first strategy, all information and trainings can be accessed from a smartphone, and the repetitions can be done anywhere, whenever possible for each employee. This can be on the train, in bed or in the break room. 

This form of autonomy is in itself beneficial for learning and motivates the employee, who isn’t tied to a classroom or to having an instructor or teacher hovering over their shoulder.

When the employee is motivated, they will seek out information themselves more often, and repeat information, which is another part of learning that we work with at A Close Shave. You can read more about motivation here. 

A living encyclopedia

We are all just humans, and no matter how often some information is repeated, it will refuse to stick. You know, that you know it, but it simply will not come to the surface – we all know this feeling.

Luckily, Academy can also be used as a living encyclopedia, so the answer to a question can be easily accessed on the phone or computer, when the memory fails.  

The system can both contain all the relevant information, so this can be found quickly, or the living lexicon can be used. By this, we mean the collected knowledge of the company – ask a question in the Forum on the system, and colleagues and managers from all branches of the company can quickly provide answers, tricks and good advice. 

This way, the costumer in the store, on the phone, over e-mail or wherever, can quickly get a professional answer, and great costumer service lives on.

Pull on the threads of memory

The memory is a part of the human consciousness we’ll probably never understand completely. Despite this, we can manipulate our memory by using what we do know, and thereby ensure that selected information is remembered.

You could call Academy one great manipulator. This doesn’t sound very nice, but that is exactly what the system is. By incorporating learning theories like the forgetting curve, spaced repetition and gamification, along with methods of recognition like achievements and social pull, the system manipulates the user into seeking out knowledge, repeating it and sharing it. 

All this is done to increase the knowledge level, sales and employee satisfaction, and overall ensure the growth of both employees and the company itself.

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