Memory Decay, Social Behavior And Motivation

 1. Memory Decay

When we learn something new, a neurochemical pathway is created. Over time, the pathway slowly disintegrates unless active rehearsing, testing and general recall are practised. The first documented use of "Decay theory" was in 1914 by Edward Thorndike and based off early memory work by Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 19th Century(1).

 2. Social Behaviour

"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention" (Herbert Simon, 1977). Since 2000, our attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to 8 seconds(2). In fact, as students opt for more screen-based activities, their attention span becomes shorter. Screen technology causes our brains to change the way they learn and adapt to the environment. Our malleable brains are "substantially shaped by what we do to them and by the experience of daily life."(3)

Technology tends to actively interfere with our attention. Smartphones, email, and social media generate continuous interruptions throughout our day. Sending learning content that is greater than 10 minutes long will be interrupted, which leads to loss of concentration.

Technology might also have a negative effect on our empathy. In a 2010 study, college students showed a 40% lower level of empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago. The study linked this behaviour with use of social media, Internet and video games(4).


 3. Motivation

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. When a task is completed out of sheer personal desire, that's intrinsic motivation. When a task is completed only for reward, that's an extrinsic motivation. Unfortunately, extrinsic rewards are motivational only in the short-term.

Motivation techniques are most effective when they include:  personal growth opportunities, autonomy and authority, experienced-based perks (vacation, trip, convert...), and Recognition(5). As a result, learners engage much more enthusiastically when we appeal to their intrinsic motivation.

When it comes to corporate training, a high percentage (~70%) of the knowledge transfer is tactical:  New procedures, systems or technology. However, tactical knowledge has a greater impact for the company than the employee personally. This means the most important corporate training is the least appealing to the learner.  Hence, it is important to create strategies that demonstrate personal benefit for users when engaging in tactical knowledge learning.

Intrinsic Motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation