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The Forgetting Curve

by Dave Hernandez

We all have times when we have gaps in our training. Perhaps life gets busy or an aircraft goes down for maintenance and Mother Nature unleashes a deluge of rain. Once we finally get ourselves back up and running, how do we keep that proficiency? There is one obvious answer: fly regularly. This will actually help you save money over time with your training. That seems counterintuitive, but it is true. When there are long intervals between flights, we end up spending a disproportionate amount of time catching up on the next flight.

Here’s why: when we learn a new skill, we have a learning curve, but the same holds true for forgetting. Much like how knowledge acquisition is predictable, so is our ability to forget. Our retention of what we learned diminishes over time. This is called the forgetting curve, or more appropriately, the Ebbinghaus Curve. In the following graph, the X axis is percentage of recall, and Y is time.

By flying often, your brain forms more enhanced neural pathways to the information about flying, and it becomes easier and quicker to recall. Science! We can do more than fly to help stave off this decrease in proficiency.  We can chair fly or use flight simulators like our Redbird Flight Training Device. Simulating a flight, visualizing checklists, and saying aloud radio calls all help keep those pathways active. Generally speaking, a 5-minute daily refresher on some area of aviation will go much further to help maintain knowledge than a 5-hour session once every check ride. Cramming is ineffective, but don’t worry, we all still do it.  Here’s a graph of how our forgetting curve is affected by frequent refreshers.

I think the conclusions are self-evident. The more we revisit information, the less we forget over time. Yes, this seems obvious. But what may not be obvious is how little time is required if the information is revisited consistently and often. Clear skies and happy studying!

If you’d like more information, I will be happy to send you a link of sources on the learning curve and the benefits of deliberate practice.

Sources:

“The Forgetting Curve” accessed, 03/04/2017.

Platt, Gary. “The Forgetting Curve and its Implications for Training Delivery

 

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