Forgetting plays a positive role in learning, research suggests

Forgetting names, skills or information learned in class is often thought of as purely negative. However unintuitive it may seem, research suggests that forgetting plays a positive role in learning: It can actually increase long-term retention, information retrieval and performance. The findings will be presented today at the American Physiological Society (APS) Institute on Teaching and Learning in Madison, Wis.

Contextual clues play a role in what people are able to store and retrieve from their memory, says Robert A. Bjork, PhD, distinguished research professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. A change in context can cause forgetting, but it can also change--and enrich--how information is encoded and retrieved, which can enhance learning. Bjork defines forgetting as "a decrease in how readily accessible some information or procedure is at a given point in time." For example, some items may be strongly imprinted in our memories (referred to as "strong storage strength")--such as a childhood phone number--but may be difficult to retrieve quickly due to the length of time since that information has been accessed ("weak retrieval strength").

Bjork will discuss the differences in storage and retrieval and how "forgetting enables, rather than undoes, learning" in the plenary session "Forgetting as a friend of learning" on Wednesday, June 20, at the Madison Concourse Hotel.



  1. Rita Shaw Rita Shaw United States says:

    As a child going though junior high, I had severe problems forgetting classmates names, locker codes, prestudy extra help for math test next day? It was embarrassing, my self esteem  was severely effected.
    I later learned I have dyslexia,  and A.D.D. but this was a different brain issue, I knew it , it effected my whole school life, at 26 I went to take my Ged test. Not feeling very confident, with sympathetic looks from my family. Who lived with my forgetting information all my life.
    I took the test, went home, and thought it is what it is?
    To my test results came back "I passed"! And I recieved 277 out of. Possible high score of 300??
    I was so confused. For days I kept wondering how could  I recall the information and do it so well?  When  I'd  stay after class for extra help for math ( because I'd always forget what I learned) recieve help, but next day draw complete blank-Test score= F
    I'm 56 so there wasn't much for learning disabilities at that time.
    So it was hard, now they know so much more and I'm grateful because learning disabilities  run though multi generations on my paternal side family, long with adhd, anxiety & depression.... I would never want them to feel so alone and lost in the dark  as I felt! It was and is still emotionally painful for me to remember,  I swear as a teenager I felt that I had a black void in my brain that swallowed random and newly learned information up, and blocked it from being retrieved. That is   until I took my GED test. Surprising myself, shocked literly and also surprising my family.
    I would read a book before them.
    My aunt would ask what it was about? I'd  come up blank? I tried to remember? I felt so stupid yet knew something. Was wrong with my brain even then. I made up a story about book for my aunt, then she read it ..after  this continued a few times my  family thought my mind was making up stories, I lived in a lah lah land.   because I definitely wasn't  explaining what they were reading, yet they watched me read the books themselves,  and in a matter of fact when my GED score came back higher than siblings , especially Aplus student brother, my mother protested, and wouldn't  believe me? They all looked confused? That's what learning disabilities do.  they confuse people, and they misjudged you as not being intintellectually  intelligent... Rita

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