Friday, 1 June 2007

Update on Tony Buzan's forgetting curve

This business of the Tony Buzan forgetting curve (see previous post) is starting to get under my skin. I tried contacting Buzan World and on separate occasions spoke to two very pleasant consultants who were quite sure there was underlying research and would get back to me. Neither did. I found this quite disappointing. Bear in mind that this is an organisation that makes a big deal of being based on sound psychological research.

I first went on a Buzan course in the 1970s and it has given me some useful techniques which have stuck throughout my working life, especially mind mapping. Because they worked I have not questioned the underlying research - but now I may just be a bit more sceptical.

10 comments:

Steve said...

Hey Frank,

As an instructor (and learner) that had never heard of Buzan, this idea resonates with me. I guess it depends on what it is you are learning, but the effect of constructive reflection (even subconscious reflection) must cause some upswing in the memory curve. This probably crosswalks to some cognitive loading theory (the fog of overload clears over time as the ideas are filed in memory).

Perhaps no evidence exists because it hadn't been challenged? Do the theories that just make sense and reinforce or validate personal experiences need to have underlying research?

Steve said...

Hey Frank,

As an instructor (and learner) that had never heard of Buzan, this idea resonates with me. I guess it depends on what it is you are learning, but the effect of constructive reflection (even subconscious reflection) must cause some upswing in the memory curve. This probably crosswalks to some cognitive loading theory (the fog of overload clears over time as the ideas are filed in memory).

Perhaps no evidence exists because it hadn't been challenged? Do the theories that just make sense and reinforce or validate personal experiences need to have underlying research?

Mark Frank said...

Steve

Thanks for responding. It is nice to know at least one person is reading at least one thing I have written :-)

I think you are right that there is scope for ideas that are not supported by rigorous research - in fact most of them are in this category. However, Buzan claims

* that his forgetting curve is not intuitive

and

* that all his ideas are supported by rigorous research.

Pragmatically speaking I am inclined to design learning with the first attempt at recall a few minutes after the learning event e.g. take a break first and then review the topic. I find it works whether it is supported by theory or not - but I would still like to know if it is based on sound research.

Dan Spira said...

Thanks for this discussion, Mark. I was also looking into this matter, when I came across your earlier post. Here's my take:

Learning the Forgetting Curve

Yes, Buzan's variation on the Forgetting Curve was probably just an intuitive graphical flourish. However, we might give him the benefit of the doubt and see it as a recognition of other related research, as Steve suggested. For example, Jenkins & Dallenback's 1924 Forgetting Curve shows an uptick in recall rates with sleep.

In any case, I've found the Forgetting Curve to be a powerful motivator for self-directed reinforcement... I've used it with course participants and they love it. What other ways have you managed to use the Forgetting Curve, in your learning planning/execution?

Mark Frank said...

Dan

Thanks. I am always thrilled to find someone has read something I have written!

Your question (what other ways have you managed to use the Forgetting Curve, in your learning planning/execution?) is one that interests me a lot. You will see from my other posts that I am obsessed with the difficulty of using the results of cognitive psychology in practice.

The forgetting curve has it uses. You certainly identified one - as a personal planner for learning material (I do a lot of amateur theatre and I find it really useful in planning how to learn lines). But I find it makes little difference in practice to individual course design. Largely because most experienced course designers/instructors take account of it without having to be told that there is underlying research. It is almost instinctive for an instructor to include reviews of previous material during a course.

Where I find it most useful is in planning a complete learning programme e.g. the end-user skills required for an IT roll out. The project manager will very easily slip into thinking "if it is covered in the course then I can tick that off". It really helps to have solid research to make the case for follow-up of some kind and to stress that training is almost useless unless the skills are used within a day or two.

The biggest challenge is to find ways to make that follow-up stimulating and to make sure people do it. To simply ask them to recall the information from time-to-time is death unless they are absolutely obsessed with the subject matter. Ideally each time you revisit the subject matter you need to get them to engage with the material at a new level and make new connections. A favourite of mine is to train superusers and then get them to hold brief (30 minute) small group sessions with people who have been on formal training about a week later. This is aimed at identifying issues in applying the course to their workplace but also acts as a timely review.

It is also important to remember (as you say) that the timing of the forgetting curve varies greatly according to subject matter and context. It is a real turn-off to be asked to revise something that was obvious in the first place and you remember perfectly well.

Tim said...

This is interesting because I have been looking at what people can remember after a traumatic event like a crime for example. If people mind map all the information they can as soon after the event as possible they are able to recall more detailed information than those that recall information using the 'traditional' police statement giving techniques.

Cristina said...

Uhm, Hello, I am doing research for a homework about Buzan forgeting curve.

I have come to the conclusion (after reading several of his books, and investigating several of his asseverations), that he really uses a lot of fallacies, and half trues.

I concluded that his studies are a bit like Freud's: "It worked in myself, so it should work in other people".

But, for example: In my case, mind mapping, doesn't work better than a flux diagram or a "diagrama de escarabajo". In fact, too much color distracts me from the goal of the mind mapping.

What it works better, for me, is to read something and then just talking about it to myself.

If I were Buzan, then I would write books about "how talking to yourself after studying can be the begining of a new era", surely there would be people to whom my technique is going to work.

And for those it doesn't or don't believe in me, I would try to search for information that "matches" what I wrote. If I don't find it, then maybe I would use fallacies like "Very important and intelligent people, said the same as I am telling you".

I found a book by Buzan, in which he said that he "invented" mind mapping for studying, and found that Da Vinci also did it, and so it was a really "Antique technique", like some sort of "lost treasure". So it's not really a product of solid investigation, but a technique that came to be, and after was studied.

I mean, syntesis, synoptic squares, comparative matrix, flux diagrams, etc. were also used by geniuses... and are also used by desperated students and, of course, there is a lot of information about them...

So, I agree with you. I lost faith in him when he talked about the brain and said that we only used the 1%-5%. That's like to say that just because my pc hard disk is not used to the fullest, then I am not using it well.


Sorry fr the grammar, english is not my first idiom.

Mark Frank said...

Cristina

Thanks. This is really interesting. Your English is very good.

Best of luck with your research. What is your course?

Cristina said...

Thank you. My course is called "Quality Systems" or "Sistemas de calidad".

In that subject, we study mind mapping, Buzan's study techniques, etc. and we practice their application in industry.

My university has some sort of agreement with Buzan, so the students or teachers that take that course, can get a certification on it.

The book I said I found, it is titled "Cómo crear mapas mentales".
Another one that I am reading is the ebook: "Técnicas y Aplicaciones del Mind Mapping"
I read one about memory, also by Buzan... but I don't remember the name of the book.

His books have some really interesting concepts... but I just think he uses a lot of generalization fallacies.

On another topic, thank you for create this blog.

davidbcourt said...

I recall a TV programme by Tony Buzan about 30 years ago where he explained the forgetting curve in detail.

The programme was probably called "use your head"

I tried it and it worked for me, so I bought his book "use your head" and like you was disappointed to find the graph was not in there, so I bought another and same result.

As far as I remember he said you can recall more 5 minutes after you revise something than immediately after revising.

So 5 minutes after revising you revise it again, it will now stick in your memory for 10 minutes.

If you revise it again after 10 minutes it will stick for 30 minutes.

If you revise it again after 30 minutes it will stick for an hour.

If you revise it again after an hour it will stick for a day.

Revise again after a day it will stick for a week.

Revise again after a week it will stick for a month.

Revise again after a month it will stick for a year.

Revise after a year it will stick for 10 years.

Unfortunately I did not revise it after 10 years so am not sure of the exact times now but the above is pretty close.

Dave Court