Are memories truly infallible? Does age really affect the forgetting curve? In this article, I’ll debunk 7 human memory myths for eLearning professionals.

7 Human Memory Myths And The Truth Behind Them

Human memory is nothing short of amazing. It allows us to store impressive amounts of information and build on our preexisting knowledge. However, there are limits to its power. eLearning professionals should be aware of the facts behind the fiction in order to create eLearning experiences that stick. Let’s take a closer look at 7 human memory myths and the truth behind them.

1. Mature Learners Cannot Retain As Much Information

As the old saying goes: “memory is the first thing to go”. However, mature learners are able to retain just as much information as their younger counterparts. In fact, it all depends on a variety of psychological and physiological factors, as well as the learning conditions that surround the memory-making event. Human beings do suffer from neuron loss as they age, but memory muscles can be trained to retain more information and beat the forgetting curve. Thus, eLearning professionals should never automatically assume that their baby boomer audience cannot retain as many facts and stats.

2. Memories Are Always Recorded Accurately

It’s a common misconception that our memory records with pinpoint accuracy, as if we were walking around with built-in smartphones that record notable events in our personal timeline. In actuality, our memories are influenced by a variety of external and internal influences. For example, how we feel when the memory is recorded or the people we are with. Even our personal cognitions have a direct bearing on how we retain and recall memories. As such, eLearning professionals need to be aware of their audience’s beliefs, opinions, and motivations in order to make the eLearning experience more memorable. More importantly, to help online learners remember information in its most accurate form.

3. Our Memory Banks Are Limitless

This is one of the most popular memory myths to date. Some people assume that our memory can store limitless amounts of information, and recalling important facts is the hard part. However, our memory does have a limited amount of space to store data. We’re only human. Our brains may be likened to machines, but they are still made of organic matter with built-in neural pathways. Every day brings new memories that our minds must tuck away for later use. There’s only so many facts and stats it can handle before it reaches full capacity. This is why it’s essential to provide information in bite-sized doses to prevent cognitive overload.

4. Stored Memories Stay The Same Over Time

Our memories are not set in stone. In fact, our memories are quite malleable, especially as time wears on. Even notable events that we think may be ingrained into our memory banks may change over the years. For this reason, it’s essential to reinforce key concepts and ideas during and after the eLearning experience. As an example, encourage online learners to participate in branching scenarios or online training simulations after the fact, or provide a microlearning online training library that they can use to brush up on knowledge autonomously.

5. Memory Loss Is A Gradual Process

It’s true that some facts are gradually forgotten over time. However, the human brain also forgets information right after the event. For example, your online learners may not be able to recall the key takeaways five minutes after they conclude the eLearning course. eLearning professionals can help prevent this by fostering emotional connectivity and making the eLearning experience relatable. Online learners are more likely to remember the information in the long term when it’s tied to strong feelings, or if they assign meaning to the information on a personal level.

6. Repetition Is The Key To Unlocking Long-Term Memory

It takes more than mere repetition to lock information into the memory banks. We cannot simply repeat information multiple times and hope to retain it for later use. The secret is assigning meaning to the ideas and concepts so that it expands our mental schema. This also allows us to form connections between new information and preexisting knowledge. In terms of eLearning, it’s best to contextualize the subject matter and encourage online learners to reflect on the topic. For example, provide real-world examples or eLearning simulations that allow them to put the information into practice.

7. Certain Memories Are Impervious To The Forgetting Curve

There is no such thing as a lifelong memory [1]. Not only do memories tend to change over time, but we can lose them altogether due to the forgetting curve. That said, there are ways to prevent memory loss and hold on to vital information for long periods of time. For instance, we are more likely to remember ideas when they help us solve a problem or overcome a challenge. The brain automatically retains the information because it is useful and allows us to achieve a goal. eLearning experiences that are emotionally-centered are also more difficult to forget.

The mind is not an impenetrable fortress that stores our memories with 100% accuracy for the rest of our lives. There are tips and tricks you can use to improve memory retention, such as reinforcing key concepts and periodically refreshing the memory banks with microlearning activities. As eLearning professionals, we should also acknowledge the limits of the human mind and work within them. Otherwise, our online learners are likely to forget the facts and stats as soon as the eLearning course concludes.

Are you looking for ways to enhance knowledge retention in your eLearning course? Read the article 9 Knowledge Retention Techniques For eLearning to discover 9 knowledge retention techniques that make eLearning memorable.


1. Memory and Learning: Myths and Facts

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