Don’t Forget the Forgetting Curve! Using Neuroscience to Create Re-memorable Training for Revenue Managers (and others!)
December 4, 2017 10:01am
by W. Todd Maddox, Ph.D., David Hayes, Ph.D., Joshua Hayes, MA
Hoteliers know the demand for well-trained revenue managers (RMs) has exploded in recent years. All hotels need a qualified individual whose responsibilities include addressing the property’s unique approach to optimizing profitability by recognizing, forecasting, and shaping their customers’ buying patterns.
The best training programs for RMs address key content in the areas of customer psychology, accounting, sales, marketing, and rooms management, among others. And yet, every hotel GM could likely relate to the following “it really happened” case study; widely used today in the training of RMs:
You’ve got to be kidding me!” said Basil, the owner of the 180-room Holiday Suites hotel.
“No, I’m not kidding. He sold them all,” replied Sandy, the hotel’s DOSM.
Together, Basil and Sandy, who had completed her franchisor’s required revenue management training program, served as the hotel’s revenue management team.
It was February 6. Sandy had just informed Basil that Mike, the hotels’ new night auditor, had, late last night, taken 17 separate reservations. Each reserving guest had purchased nine rooms. Each reservation was for one night, and all were scheduled to arrive November 22.
Because the buyers had purchased in quantity, Mike had given each a 10% room rate discount; the normal amount permitted when a reservation agent was quoting rates for a multi-room sale. Mike had sold every remaining available room for that date, nearly nine months away.
“But that’s the weekend of the Annual Sailboat Show. The city will be packed! We always sell out that weekend. We never sell at discount, and we always require a three-night minimum stay on each room.”
“I know,” replied Sandy. “But Mike’s new. He said he didn’t know. No one told him. And I forgot to flag those dates in the PMS.”
What happened? Mike made a costly error, but it was a reasonable error for someone new. More importantly, for the hotel, this is actually a story about Sandy forgetting a key part of her training. Sandy could have prevented the error by following PMS maintenance protocol. But she forgot the importance of blocking dates in the PMS far in advance. Sandy’s revenue management training was probably good, but it was clearly not re-memorable. Re-memorable training prevents errors due to memory loss over time; and we know errors of this type are commonplace.
For a long time, neuroscientists have studied human forgetfulness. In fact, in the late 1800s memory researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus first quantified the effects of time on memory and in doing so identified the “Forgetting Curve.” Figure 1 shows a typical forgetting curve.
The y-axis in Figure 1 denotes the percentage of trained information that is retained and the x-axis denotes time. The blue dot in the upper left denotes the initial learning and, in this example, all of the trained information was perfectly learned (100%).
The red line represents the brain’s forgetting curve. Note that forgetting is rapid; with only about 40% of newly learned information retained one day after training, and only about 15% retained one week after training.
Figure 1: Typical Forgetting Curve
Every trainee is impacted by the forgetting curve. Because that is true, truly re-memorable training requires the extensive use of specific retention and recall enhancement (RARE) procedures.
The use of RARE procedures is critical because neuroscientists now understand that the human brain is actually hard-wired to forget. That is, the brain regularly purges itself of some learned information to better focus on what it perceives as “more important” information. It does not do so out of design weakness or lack of storage capacity, but rather out of its equally hard-wired desire for long-term memory efficiency.
The brain is always in the process of sorting memories. Simply put, the more time that passes between information absorption and its recall, the more likely it is to be forgotten. This transience “use-it-or-lose-it” feature of the brain’s information storage and recall efforts is normal in learners of all ages. That’s why it is so easy to remember what you had for dinner last night, but much harder to recall what you ate two weeks ago.
Sometime in her past training Sandy no doubt “learned” the importance of future-focused PMS data maintenance, but the message her brain received was that the information was “not important enough” to readily retain. Thus, she forgot what she once knew. It happens to all of us.
Fortunately, for trainers, in the past few decades, a number of ground breaking neuroscientific discoveries have identified specific RARE processes and procedures that help optimize learning and enhance re-memorability. Unfortunately, nearly all of these RARE discoveries are buried in dense scientific and academic reports and few have been broadly publicized and explained to those most responsible for employee training.
The impact of RARE training procedures on the forgetting curve is illustrated in Figure 2: Forgetting Curve with RARE Training.
Figure 2: Forgetting Curve with RARE Training
In Figure 2, the green line denotes the retention rate that one can achieve from applying RARE procedures that make learning “stick” over time; thus resulting in re-memorable training.
Most importantly, the space between the curved lines represents the retention improvement of RARE over non-RARE training, with the resulting difference mapped over time. This area between the two slopes also represents potential moments, or instances, where a trainee has forgotten information they were trained on, but would have remembered had they been trained using RARE procedures.
Traditionally, hospitality training (like that which Sandy probably received) has emphasized the identification and dissemination of important information, rather than a trainee’s long-term retention and recall of that information. Of course, successful training does always begin by carefully identifying key training program content.
But more must be done!
Content identification must be followed by the implementation of an instructional program designed to convey the content (the “what”) in ways that are truly re-memorable (the “how”).
It is important to know that effective training requires both optimized content and optimized delivery. If the training’s content is inappropriate, trainees will under-perform in the future even if the training procedures used were optimized. Similarly, however, even when the content is optimized, trainees will under-perform in the future if the training procedures utilized are weak. Trainers can only maximize long-term performance by optimizing both content and training procedures.
The use of RARE procedures can result in training programs that are truly re-memorable. One of the most important of these RARE procedures is to periodically test and retrain for re-memorability. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can be used to facilitate this process by optimizing the time between retraining sessions and by monitoring, in real-time, the information that is being forgotten most quickly.
Scientists now know that human memory involves complex forms of information coding, storage and retrieval. With two or three properly designed, AI/ML-driven and optimized re-memorability training sessions, long-term memory representations can be formed that are nearly immune to forgetting.
RARE training applies specific knowledge about how the brain functions to enhance recall and minimize memory loss. Some RARE training techniques directly resulting from neuroscientists’ better understanding of brain functioning include:
The fact that people who learn to ride a bike never forget how to do it doesn’t just apply to motor skills; it also applies to memory and recall. Those responsible for training should carefully consider the space between the red and green lines on the Forgetting Curve with RARE Training. The space between those lines represents the very real potential for trained staff to make critical errors, that they have already been trained not to make!
Given the heavy financial toll that can result from poor revenue management decision making at the property level, increasing numbers of organizations recognize the need to incorporate advances in the science of learning when designing re-memorable training programs in revenue management, as well as other critical operational areas.
What do those responsible for an RM’s training need to do to help avoid the situation that will surely cost Basil and Sandy’s hotel so dearly? First, have qualified professionals identify the most effective and engaging training content. Second, and equally importantly, however, they must monitor advances in learning theory and application to ensure these RARE advancements are applied to their training programs.
We all want to train better, so we can achieve better long-term training outcomes. The Forgetting Curve with RARE Training shows just how much we can gain; without excessive effort or cost. Significant improvements in training outcomes are now attainable. We can do it if we just remember to make our training re-memorable.
Note: This article originally published December 4, 2017 at www.hotel-online.com. Reuse by other media or news outlets or organizations are prohibited without permission. Personal use and sharing via social media tools is encouraged. All rights reserved by the authors.
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hotel revenue manager
W. Todd Maddox, Ph.D. is the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting, LLC. Todd received his Ph.D. in Quantitative and Cognitive Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara; followed by a two-year post-doctoral Research Fellowship at Harvard University. Todd is especially interested in applying his optimized training expertise to the emerging technologies of VR/AR/MR, as well as eLearning. email@example.com
David Hayes, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner for Panda Professionals Hospitality Management and Training (Panda Pros) and is the co-author with Allisha A. Miller of Revenue Management for the Hospitality Industry (Wiley, 2011). David received his Ph.D., in Education from Purdue University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Joshua Hayes, MA is a Partner in Panda Pros. He received his Master’s degree from Stanford University, and is ABD in his Ph.D. program at the University of California, Davis. email@example.com
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