The forgetting curve

Firstly, it’s important to understand that when someone needs to learn new information, it often isn’t retained in their long-term memory. In fact, people will forget an average of 90% within the first month. This is called The Forgetting Curve. Research has shown however, that strong memories are retained for much longer periods of time. So, it stands to reason that if we create clever digital learning that uses meaningful interactions (such as stories that people can remember), we can combat this.

Three key points to consider

  • Type of course – level of course/how complex is the content, what are the objectives
  • Who is the audience
  • Project constraints

1. Complexity of content

What’s the level of the course? Perhaps it’s an awareness course where less interactivity is conducive to retaining fairly basic content. But if the learner is required to master a new skill or topic, it helps to interact with the content. The more complex the topic, the more interactivity there should be.

Essentially, it’s a balancing act. The interactivity doesn’t want to distract the learner, and equally, too little interactivity (for more complex topics) will produce flat digital learning.

Moving shapes around doesn’t create a strong memory or connection to the content. And unless the content is complex, little interaction is actually needed for the learner to understand it.


Is it about trying to pass on compliance information? Change behaviour? Onboard new employees? Teach new skills? This is one of the single biggest factors that will influence the amount of interactivity in your course’s design.

2. Audience

Consider the audience’s current knowledge and technical abilities. The kinds of interactions and their frequency need to fit the audience.

3. Project constraints

Budget! No matter what the best course of action is, the budget has to be there to cover it.

The types of interactivity

Once we understand these factors thoroughly, and we have a course structure in place, we can consider the interactive features. Typically, we use different features from each group of interactivities to fit with the differing content throughout the course.


  • Passive learning through reading and/or listening
  • Minimal learner control
  • Linear progression
  • Little or no assessment or practice
  • Stock photos and graphics
  • Basic videos


  • Active learning with learner engagement
  • Basic learner control
  • Simple quizzes, practice, and feedback
  • Simple scenarios
  • May include custom photos and graphics
  • Custom video


  • Active learning with high learner engagement such as branching
  • High learner control
  • Nonlinear and may include simple branching
  • Advanced practice with instructive feedback
  • Complex scenarios with decision-making
  • Custom photos, graphics and/or animations.

It’s really important we move away from thinking that interactivity is moving boxes around or clicking on things for the sake of it. Interactivity means creating ‘meaningful’ engagement where the learner can relate and dive deeper into the content.

The sweet spot is when we create a balance of meaningful interactivity for complex subjects, and minimalist interactions for basic content. It’s then that we beat the forgetting curve and create really great digital learning.

This is a guest post by Rachael Asling, one of our Senior Instructional Designers.

Similar Posts