Get Learners to Truly Learn Through Spaced Practice

Spaced PracticeBy Maresa Malloy, Instructional Designer.

In this blog article, Maresa takes a look at how spaced practice can be applied to learning and discusses the benefits of this approach.

The idea of ‘spaced practice’ is not a new phenomenon in learning. Hermann Ebbinghaus, the German psychologist who first described terms such as the ‘learning curve’ and the ‘forgetting curve’, studied the effectiveness of spaced practice as far back as 1885. It has, to some extent, been applied to teaching and training curricula ever since then. So why then write a blog about it?

Spaced practice is often forgotten about or simply left out of training curricula, despite its effectiveness. Many people don’t understand in what way it is beneficial to learning or how they might apply it to their teaching. In this blog, I will explore how Learning Designers can embed reminders and staged practice activities post programme completion to help embed learning.

What is Spaced Practice?

According to Dr. Will Thalheimer’s, “spaced practice occurs when we present learners with a concept to learn, wait some amount of time, and then present the same concept again”.

(Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says: 2006)

There are two ways to integrate spaced practice into learning materials:

(1) Put a delay between two or more repetitions, or

(2) Present other learning material between two or more repetitions.

1.       Putting a delay between two or more repetitions

The table below shows how you can put a delay between two or more repetitions of a learning concept:

Spaced Practice:
Insert a delay between repetitions
Scenario on Topic A
Wait
Scenario on Topic A
Wait
Scenario on Topic A

In this example, a delay is placed between three repetitions of scenarios on Topic A (the learning concept). The scenarios do not have to be the same, but they must teach the same concept (Topic A).

2.       Present other learning material between two or more repetitions

The table below shows how you can present other learning material between two or more repetitions of a learning concept:

Spaced Practice:
Insert other topics between repetitions
Scenario on Topic A
(Scenario on Topic B)
Scenario on Topic A
organize (Scenario on Topic C)
Scenario on Topic A

In this example, scenarios on other topics are placed between two or more repetitions of Topic A (the learning concept).

Just like the growing trend in eating habits, little and often learning works as it gives the brain time to translate and organise memories, as well as reinforcing those retentions over time.


What are the benefits of Spaced Practice?
Repeating learning concepts supports and reinforces learning. Repeating learning concepts

over time produces more learning and better long-term retention than repetitions that are not spaced. The spacing out of practice seems to avoid fatigue effects and consolidates memory.

Dr. Will Thalheimer’s research suggests that longer spacings tend to produce more long-term retention than shorter spacings (up to a point where even longer spacings are sometimes counterproductive).

How can you apply Spaced Practice post programme completion?
There are various methods whereby you can embed reminders and staged practice activities post programme completion to help embed learning. I’ve listed some of them below:

Break your programme up into chunks
Instead of creating one 1 hour course, break it up into four 15-minute chunks. Prioritise the chunks and schedule them so that the most important and most easily forgotten points are provided more often throughout the chunks. Schedule your learners to take each chunk one or two weeks apart.

Provide short refresher courses
Provide short refresher eLearning programmes with the key learning points from the initial eLearning programme. Prompt your learners to make decisions based on learning points you want to reinforce. Deliver these at intervals throughout the year or when performance is low.

Provide practice exercises
Provide practice exercises which give learners an opportunity to apply what they have learned to their jobs. Reinforce key learning points via role-plays, discussions and scenario-based questions.

Send emails with key points
Send emails with key points at various intervals after the learner has taken the programme to reinforce learning.

Use other tools
Use other tools to keep the topic alive. For example, create a discussion forum, add a Twitter feed, write various articles in your newsletter, put up posters, give learners access to related articles, and provide live support.

Support learners on the job
Provide learners with Job Aids and resources which help them to retrieve information when they need it.

Encourage managers to follow-up afterwards
Get managers to talk with learners about key learning points. This not only encourages learners, but it helps you to discover what they may need to reinforce their learning.


These are just some of the methods you can use. Has anyone any other suggestions that have worked for them?
Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this


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