The Science Behind ECHO


Three factors have shaped the development of ECHO into the gold standard in corporate training reinforcement:

  1. Extensive empirical research conducted by leading cognitive psychologists in the field of learning, memory, and retention
  2. Insights that SwissVBS has gained over the past 15 years in serving the corporate learning market
  3. Input of an early adopter and a key SwissVBS client: GE

Let’s take a few minutes to look at the science behind ECHO.

The Forgetting Curve

We know that learners almost immediately forget approximately 70 percent of what they’ve just learned. The remaining knowledge gradually disappears, albeit more slowly. The Forgetting Curve is as real in corporate learning as in other settings. The key challenge to improving the way we learn is finding a way to interrupt the forgetting process. [1]


To effectively target the forgetting curve, ECHO is based on seven design principles, each backed by an extensive body of empirical research and scientific studies. Collectively, these principles represent the underlying philosophy that has shaped the evolution of ECHO. The product leverages mobile, cloud, and AI technologies to tackle effectively the memory loss that occurs after a training program.

A brief description of each principle is offered below. The book Make It Stick, which provides the basis for these principles, gives a comprehensive summary of the latest empirical research on durable learning and retention.

The main scientific studies that support each principle are referenced in square brackets. These references are listed at the end of the article.

The empirical studies that form the scientific basis of ECHO fall into the discipline of cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of mind and mental function, including learning, memory, attention, and retention. Cognitive psychologists explore how mental processes affect behavior. Much of the work derived from cognitive psychology has been integrated into other modern disciplines, including educational psychology.

Design Principles

Principle 1: Retrieval Practice Stops the Act of Forgetting

The act of retrieving knowledge from memory both strengthens and builds new neuro-pathways in the brain that make it easier to recall that information in the future. Active retrieval practice is one of the most effective ways to make what we have learned more accessible to us when we need it. [3][4][5]

Principle 2: Retrieval Practice Is Better than Relearning

Relearning is not as effective as retrieval practice. Relearning has three strikes against it. It is time consuming, it doesn’t result in durable memory, and it often involves an unwitting self-deception, as growing familiarity with the text comes to feel like mastery of the content (fluency is mistaken for learning). The number of hours immersed in rereading is not a measure of mastery. [2]

Learners whose study strategies emphasize rereading, but not self-testing or retrieval practice, show overconfidence in their mastery. Learners who have taken part in retrieval practices have a double advantage over those who have not: a more accurate sense of what they know and don’t know, and the strengthening of learning that accrues from retrieval practice. [18][19]

Principle 3: Retrieval Practice Is Better than Massed Learning

Massed learning (cramming) leads to short-term retention but results in faster forgetting compared with retrieval practice. Gains achieved during massed learning are transitory and fade away quickly. [10][11][12]

Principle 4: Retrieval Practice Needs to Be Effortful

When learning is harder, it’s stronger and lasts longer. Where more cognitive effort is required for retrieval, there are greater retention results. Even a single retrieval practice can produce a large improvement in retention, and gains in learning continue to increase as the number of retrieval practices increases. [16][17][18][20][21][22][23]

The rapid gains produced by a massed practice are often evident, but the rapid forgetting that follows is not. Practice that’s spaced out, interleaved with other learning, and varied produces better mastery, longer retention, and more versatility. But these benefits come at a price: when practice is spaced, interleaved, and varied, it requires more effort. Learners feel the increased effort, but not the benefits the effort produces. Learning feels slower from this kind of practice, and learners don’t get the rapid improvements and affirmations they’re accustomed to seeing from a massed practice. Learning programs that make learners aware of this effect are more effective.

Principle 5: Retrieval Practice Needs to Be Spaced Out

Multiple sessions of retrieval practice are generally better than one, especially if the sessions are spaced out. [6][7]

To be most effective, retrieval must be repeated again and again, in spaced-out sessions, so that the recall, rather than a mindless recitation, requires some cognitive effort. [4][5][9]

When retrieval practice is spaced out and broken into separate periods, allowing for some forgetting to occur between tests, it leads to stronger long-term retention than when it is massed. [8][24][25]

What should be the time separation between practices? Enough so that practice doesn’t become mindless repetition. Or in other words, enough time so that a little forgetting can set in. A little forgetting between practice sessions can be a good thing, if it leads to more effort in practice. Waiting too long will result in so much forgetting that retrieval essentially involves relearning the material. The time periods between retrieval practice sessions allow our memory to consolidate. Sleep plays a large role in memory consolidation as well, so mapping practices with at least a day in between sessions is considered ideal.

Principle 6: Delayed Feedback Is More Effective

Giving feedback on wrong answers to retrieval practice questions strengthens retention more than testing alone. [13][14][15]

Delaying feedback briefly produces better long-term learning than immediate feedback. [13][14][15]

Principle 7: Retrieval Practice Needs to Be Interleaved

Interleaving the practice of two or more subjects or skills is also a more potent alternative to massed practice. Interleaving two or more subjects during practice provides a form of spacing and requires the learner to exert more effort. The learning from interleaved practice feels slower than learning from massed practice. Trainers and learners both sense the difference. Learners can see that their grasp of each concept is achieved more slowly, and the long-term advantage is not apparent to them. They may find it confusing: they’re just starting to get a handle on new material and don’t feel on top of it yet when they are forced to switch. Trainers avoid it because it feels sluggish. But the research shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention are much better if practices are interleaved rather than massed. [26]



Empirical Research References