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Fearing Forgetting: Should You Try to Maintain or Relearn Knowledge?

Fearing Forgetting: Should You Try to Maintain or Relearn Knowledge?
Needing to relearn something isn't always fun. But is relearning always such a bad thing? Here's why you shouldn't fear forgetting.


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Retrieval is more effective than passive review

Retrieval is more effective than passive review

We are all apt to forget things we have learned in the past. Even memories of important events will eventually decline in accuracy.

If we want to remember things, research tells us that retrieval practice is more effective than passive review. If you have to choose how to study, actively trying to remember the facts is more effective than merely re-reading facts.




Maintenance struggles

The person who uses their foreign language skills occasionally is reminded how much they've forgotten. Setting up a maintenance schedule where you practice your skills once a week may help, but few have the time to prioritize maintenance.

When you choose to specialize, remembering knowledge is less of a problem. The opposite situation is that knowledge is so well-maintained that the routines can lead you into a rut, making improvement more difficult.



Relearning as a strategy

It means accepting that your knowledge of old subjects will decline and that there will be a period of hard effort before they're usable at their previous level.

  • Relearning tends to be much faster than initial learning.
  • Relearning is a form of spacing practice.
  • Relearning prioritizes useful knowledge. If something is more useful, you'll find opportunities to practice it. Less useful knowledge will decay more.



Drawback to relearning

Relearning is an excellent strategy for lifelong learning. The problem is the pain of rebuilding confidence. You may remember a better ability than in reality, so even doing your best with the old skill will seem sub-standard.

However, if you can push through this short-term feeling of inadequacy, relearning starts to look good.



The right mindset for successful learning

A strategy to adopt is to embrace relearning opportunities. It may mean there's a chance you'll fail, but adopting a policy of embracing opportunities will lead to better skills in the long-run.

Acting as if you have not forgotten when you choose projects might push you to do things more often (instead of thinking you need a few weeks or relearning first.) Yet, the rustiness will undoubtedly slow you down at first, and this has to be considered.




Building and reguilding confidence

Building and reguilding confidence

Rebuilding confidence is not the same as building confidence.

  • When building confidence, you're trying to do something you're not sure you can do.

Confidence is essentially about expectations

You think you'll excel, but considering the probability of success and feeling confident is not that easy.

Framing effects happen when the same thing looks different when the context change. If you're a good student in a mediocre class, you feel smarter than if you're a good student in an elite class.

Relearning confidence

When practicing a skill that you have forgotten, you may lack the confidence to pick it up again.

However, those doubts are exaggerated. Not remembering is normal, and relearning happens faster than you may expect. Yet, you may still lack self-confidence, which will undermine your self-image and motivation.

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Everything Remains In Memory

A recent theory on forgetting states that everything we learn remains in storage inside our memory, but our ability to recall and retrieve that information fades if we do not practice fetch...

Spaced Repetition Learning Systems

Spaced Repetition Time Intervals can be practiced using:

  • The Analog spaced Repetition System: Making flashcards or 'boxes' of study material to review daily, weekly or bi-weekly.
  • The Digital Method: Use an App like Anki, or SuperMemo.

A New Way To Study

Studying takes too much time, and there is only a limited number of hours. Spaced repetition method uses time intervals and makes you recall more information, using less time.

The spacing effect maximizes learning and your study becomes more efficient and consumes less time.

The Half-Life of Facts

The Half-Life of Facts

Facts decay over time. And the time it takes to disprove or replace half of it can be predicted.

Data in medicine become half as relevant in 2-3 years. For exact sciences, 2-4 years.

Half life of facts and compound knowledge

If we want our knowledge to compound, we’ll need to focus on the invariant general principles.

Half-lives show us that if we spend time learning something that changes quickly, we might be wasting our time.