About this paper

Appears in:
Pages: 8908-8918
Publication year: 2017
ISBN: 978-84-697-3777-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2017.0672

Conference name: 9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 3-5 July, 2017
Location: Barcelona, Spain


B. Subirana, A. Bagiati, S. Sarma

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (UNITED STATES)
How important are Undergraduate College Academics after graduation? How much do we actually remember after we leave the college classroom, and for how long? Taking a look at major University ranking methodologies one can easily observe that they consistently lack any objective measure of what content knowledge and skills students retain from college education in the long term. What might be a reason for this? Can this absence be an indicator of the notion that whatever is learned in academia is irrelevant in the long run, or does this just reveal a pitfall within the evaluation and ranking process? How easy is long-term learning retention to measure and to what extend should it be included in graduate school admissions or in hiring decisions?

On a quest to finding these answers our research group decided to start by exploring the following research question: Is there any rigorous scholarly published evidence on retention of long-term unused academic content knowledge? This paper presents existing research evidence that can help answer these questions based on a preliminary literature review on long-term retention of memory and learning. The preliminary review includes approximately 100 papers discussing research on memory and learning retention, dating as back as the Ebbinghaus's 1880-1885 seminal work on the forgetting curve. According to Ebbinghaus, the forgetting curve can approximately predict the decline of memory retention in time, by showing how information is lost over time in the case where the initial content learnt does not get used and there is no attempt by the learner to retain it. The data set occurred through two searches for papers citing (Ebbinghaus 1885), one on Google Scholar and one on the Web of Science. Our focus on Ebbinghaus’ work is based on the fact that this has been the study guiding research on memory and learning retention, within various contexts, over the last 120 years.

Based on the current state of our study no evidence was found indicating retention of unused college-acquired learning beyond two years after graduation. Furthermore, findings in all research papers reviewed in this study were consistent with the following assertion: the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is a fundamental law of human nature – in fact, of the whole animal kingdom. Findings on almost all papers align with the notion that memory of all types, including verbal, visual, abstract, social and autobiographical, is universally forgotten following an Ebbinghaus exponential forgetting curve [Ebbinghaus 1885]. This fundamental law on nature, also when examined within the context of academic learning retention, manifests itself as an exponential curve halving memory saliency about every two years (what we call "Ebbinghaus Speed").

This paper presents the research group’s initial hypothesis and conjectures related to the topic of this study, and analyzes the research methodology. Furthermore, based on current preliminary research findings, implications for college-level education programming and curriculum development, suggestions for instructional design enhancing learning durability, as well as future research directions are also discussed in the paper.
author = {Subirana, B. and Bagiati, A. and Sarma, S.},
series = {9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies},
booktitle = {EDULEARN17 Proceedings},
isbn = {978-84-697-3777-4},
issn = {2340-1117},
doi = {10.21125/edulearn.2017.0672},
url = {https://dx.doi.org/10.21125/edulearn.2017.0672},
publisher = {IATED},
location = {Barcelona, Spain},
month = {3-5 July, 2017},
year = {2017},
pages = {8908-8918}}
AU - B. Subirana AU - A. Bagiati AU - S. Sarma
SN - 978-84-697-3777-4/2340-1117
DO - 10.21125/edulearn.2017.0672
PY - 2017
Y1 - 3-5 July, 2017
CI - Barcelona, Spain
JO - 9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
JA - EDULEARN17 Proceedings
SP - 8908
EP - 8918
ER -
B. Subirana, A. Bagiati, S. Sarma (2017) ON THE FORGETTING OF COLLEGE ACADEMICS: AT "EBBINGHAUS SPEED"?, EDULEARN17 Proceedings, pp. 8908-8918.