Memory Retention Rates Tell You How To Learn

A popular quote that is easy to find online says “We learn… 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we see and hear, 70 percent of what we discuss with others, 80 percent of what we experience, and 95 percent of what we teach to someone.”  The percentages in the quote have no scientific accuracy, and don’t really mean much, as can be seen on this page, but relevance can still be taken from the quote about the various methods to maintain something in memory.  Here I discuss what you can take from this quote:

Reading Is Not The Only Way To Learn

It is easy to see from the quote that reading is not the only way to absorb a concept.  This means that you would want to try alternatives to reading.  If you read a book, but then don’t read any of it out loud, don’t discuss it with others in person or on an online forum, don’t implement what you read in your day-to-day activity, or  don’t teach concepts from the book to someone else, you are missing out on some key ways to solidify the material in the reading.  It doesn’t take much effort to supplement your reading, so it is always worth it.

See How You Can Supplement What You Read

If you are going to read a book, use some of the big methods for retention to make it worthwhile.  If the book has how-to material in it, don’t read something unless you are going to go do it afterwards, using what you read and thought about.  If the book goes over a concept that is confusing or interesting to you, go talk to someone about it, or find an online book forum where that book was discussed in a thread and add to it or read what others had to say.  Read parts of the book to yourself out loud if they seem like important portions.

Memory Retention Is Based On Pressure

Our minds have developed so that we remember the items that really make an imprint.  Also, emotional events are very well remembered by us.  You learn so much of what you teach to others because big pressure is on you at that time to not seem clueless while explaining the content.  There is pressure on you here, since you would appear foolish if you offered to teach something and didn’t have the concept understood.  You also learn a lot from what you experience because you do it on the spot, and have to correct errors during the process or it won’t work out.  The pressure is on you there to continue through until you complete the procedure.  You remember much of what you discuss with others because you have to have solid comprehension to be able to respond to others and their possible arguments or comments.  This goes on for the other points.  The more pressure there is on you to know the material, the higher the probability that it will be encoded into your cognition.

Create Pressure Where You Want To Improve

What do people who want to learn public speaking most quickly do?  They join Toastmasters or a similar organization and place themselves in pressure-filled(early on at least) speaking environments with others watching them, or they go and find speaking engagements to take part in.  This creates pressure where the improvement is desired.  The pressure wasn’t provided by life, but by the choice of the pro-active individual.  If you want to learn vocabulary for a standardized test, or for your own vocabulary expansion, put pressure on yourself to do so.  Tell 20 people to test you at random times, find an online forum where there is a vocabulary contest, pick a book that has loads of words you don’t know and make a commitment to underline and then find the meaning of every word you don’t know, start using 5 new vocabulary words during the day each day so that people see you learning them, or e-mail me asking me to write a vocabulary eBook.  You want to keep your desire running in the high retention rate activities, which are:

  1. discussing the concept with others
  2. experiencing the material in real-time action
  3. teaching the material to someone else

There are many methods you can use to keep something in memory.  Remember that you are most likely to remember something if it is actually valuable to you as a person.

14 thoughts on “Memory Retention Rates Tell You How To Learn”

  1. FYI…The percentages cited in the quote in the first paragraph above are not just “somewhat off,” the entirety of this purported research conclusion began with a conscious falsification merging one set of ancient qualitative conclusions with questionable quantitative findings…If one really thinks about specific elements of the quote (e.g., is the process of learning by “reading” really wholly different from learning by “seeing’?), one should have more than a little doubt…To give you credit, you seemed to sense the precision of the percentages was ridiculous…Unfortunately, though, since William Glasser said no such thing, the only accurate thing in your first paragraph is that the quote is “popular” (another reason to be suspicious)…I know that you just repeated what someone else had quoted because it suited your ends…I also know you could have made your own common-sense points with actual, valid research and without the quote…But this wasn’t a very good introduction for me to your blog…If you want to correct any part of the mis-attributed, misquoted, mental miscegenation that will, depending on “search” terms, introduce you to the world, I suggest you start by going to http://www.willatworklearning.com/2006/05/people_remember.html…Hope this helps, Dan

  2. I just clicked through to “Top Posts” and realized that this post citing false “memory retention rates” was likely selected for top billing based on its content. Quite frankly, if you think about these as memory versus learning percentages, then the rates really make no sense at all as possible scientific findings!. I like your site and you seem to offer a lot of common sense in simple, accessible terms to an audience that can benefit from it. Accordingly, you probably want to delete someone else’s lazy, misleading thinking and make the same points another way…Just a thought…Dan

  3. I apologize for mistakenly re-submitting the previous follow-up post…You did say something somewhere I skimmed about being brutally honest…I hope that, like my wish that the information in the first post helps, was a sincere statement….Good luck with your consultancy..D

  4. Hi Dan.

    I appreciate this information very much. I read that article over at willatworklearning.com and that was pretty mind-opening. I had seen the image in some other places as well, so it is good to find this out.

    I sure do like your honesty and concern. We don’t usually know where we have erred until someone takes the time to point it out to us. I will edit this article thanks to your information.

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  6. Hello,,,can you help me retain a college course i am taking,,,like websites etc: i am a visual learner according to Richard Felders learning styles..the class is PathoPhysiology the hardest information to comprehend..i MUST pass this class to continue my career as a Nurse,,please help,,any info would be helpful:
    Things i do already: re-read,,write notes over and over,,and listen to audio versions from my class website:,,I need visuals,,,,Thanks

  7. These rates are okay. For sure Dan cannot quantify in percentile more than what these quotes has tried. I have strong notion/analysis that the originator of these quotes wants to show the gravity or relevance or level of impact on each one of ways of retaining or acquiring knowledge. By putting rates instead of gravity order it is quite okay. Dan should be more understanding as the kind of approach given is objectively fine and universal. I mean, even a man not as intelligent as done can gain purposely well. My name is Robert Mendoza of the Philippines rmendoza1880@yahoo.com

  8. I quite appreciate all who had run critique of this article. However, it should be realized that there is no finality in the conclusion or finding of any study, which explains the Tentative nature of all studies. It is not just enough to criticize a work, but that crtics should come up with better, more logical and scientifically – based alternatives. This way , frontier of knowledge would be advanced.
    Thanks.

  9. Great website. Thank you for posting this. I will definitely check to your site to see what’s new and recommend my neighbors about this.

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