Why most people tend to forget what they hear?

Over 2400 years ago, Confucius declared:

What I hear, I forget.

What I see, I remember.

What I do, I understand.

These three simple statements speak volumes about the need for active learning.

I have modified and expanded the wisdom of Confucius into what I call the “Active-Learning Credo.”

What I hear, I forget.

What I hear and see, I remember a little.

What I hear, see, and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand.

What I hear, see, discuss, and do, I acquire knowledge and skill.

What I teach to another, I master.

            Several reasons exist for why most people tend to forget what they hear. One of the most interesting has to do with the rate at which an instructor speaks and the rate at which participants listen. Most instructors speak about 100 to 200 words per minute. How many of those words do participants hear? It depends on how they are listening. If the participants are really concentrating, they might be able to listen attentively to about 50 to 100 words per minute or half of what an instructor is saying. That is because participants are thinking a lot while they are listening, so it is hard to keep up with a talkative instructor. A more likely explanation is that participants are not concentrating because, even if the material is interesting, it is hard to concentrate for a sustained period of time. Studies show that students can hear (without thinking) at the rate of 400 to 500 words per minute. When listening for a sustained period of time to an instructor who is talking at only one fourth their capacity to hear, participants are likely to become bored and let their minds wander.

In fact, one study demonstrates that students in lecture-based college classrooms are not attentive about 40 percent of the time. Moreover, while students retain 70 percent of the first ten minutes of a lecture, they only retain 20 percent of the last ten minutes . No wonder, students in a lecture-based introductory psychology course knew only 8 percent more than a control group that had never taken the course at al.
What will happend if  teacher/instructor/trainer add visuals to a session?Actually learning process increases retention from 14 to 38 percent ?. Studies have also shown an improvement of up to 200 percent when vocabulary is taught using visual aids! Moreover, the time required to present a concept is reduced up to 40 percent when visuals are used to augment a verbal presentation. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it is three times more effective than words alone.


When teaching has both an audio and a visual dimension, the message is reinforced by two systems of delivery. By using both, there is a greater chance of meeting the needs of several types of learners. However, merely hearing something and seeing it is not enough to learn it.

When we are tolking about learning and teaching we should keep in mind that learning is an active experience of hearing, seeing, asking questions, discussing, doing, and teaching others.


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