ABSTRACT

In the 25 years since Farr’s (1987) seminal review of research on the long-term retention of knowledge and skills and almost 15 years since Arthur, Bennett, Stanush, and McNelly’s (1998) meta-analysis, it appears to us that not a lot of empirical research has been devoted to the study of knowledge and skill retention outside the more basic, cognitive-experimental work on memory and motor learning. We see two major reasons for this lack of research attention. First, from a purely practical perspective, there are substantial logistical challenges associated with recruiting and training participants, and of course retaining and retesting them after extensive periods of nonuse. This is particularly the case with applied research, given that the chosen task domain typically involves a complex performance environment that reflects some realworld context. Such task domains require many hours of training, often distributed across several days if not a few weeks, and the tasks themselves must be selected with a consideration that participants will not have oppor - tunities to practice the task during a designated nonuse period. Second, from a theoretical perspective, many researchers may not perceive the need for more empirical work given that the preponderance of basic research points to “decay” as a matter of interference with retrieval processes rather than sheer nonuse. From this viewpoint it could be argued that decay is not much of a problem with many contemporary real-world tasks. Moreover, for simple tasks, the practical implications appear fairly straightforward. If a task simply

entails retrieving declarative knowledge (i.e., basic facts or information), then why not just instruct individuals to “Google it” on a hand-held electronic device rather than being concerned with training individuals to develop richly encoded memory stores? If a task involves the accurate and efficient execution of a mundane set of procedures, then such tasks could be identified before training as candidates for frequent refresher training. With these practical and theoretical issues in mind, researchers may not see much of a payoff in conducting applied research on skill retention with protocols involving complex tasks and extensive periods of nonuse.