This paper attempts to make an in-depth research, analysis and clarification of the teaching method referred to as Spaced Learning. The 21st century teachers and students especially those from Nigeria are confronted with the challenge bothering on the selection and use of the best and effective teaching method in order to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. Spaced learning offers the most effective method to increase learners retentive memory of contents studied.
Key word: Spaced Learning
The quest for new and innovative method of teaching and learning has lead to numerous teaching methods and skills being developed and experimented by psychologist and stakeholders in the field of education. Modern innovations in methodology of teaching are all geared towards enhancing teaching and learning. According to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (2005) innovation means new ways, new style or new approaches of doing something. Ejinwa (2018) was of the opinion that an innovative approach to teaching creates room for developing and trying new teaching strategies or methods. It is a process that involves continuously improving the art of teaching as well as generating new teaching styles or practices all geared towards presenting the subject matter as effectively as possible as well as achieving the stated educational objectives.
Innovative teaching strategies/ methods are teaching processes that deviate from the traditional/ classical well known methods. They are teaching and learning approaches that explain how knowledge is impacted and assimilated in a way that creates innovation. One might ask why there are so many methods of teaching and new ones are still being developed. The answer is quite obvious. Knowledge is dynamic and there are different types of learners. As knowledge evolves especially as a result of explosion in scientific and technological breakthrough in information and communication technology (ICT), there arise the need to develop different teaching methods that suits the delivery and acquisition of new knowledge. Conversely, the different types of learners we have require different methods for impartation and assimilation of knowledge. The method used in teaching a visual or auditory learner might be different from that used by Kinesthetic Learners. This forms the bases for innovative methods of teaching. One of the new teaching methods presently being experimented in the classroom is ‘Spaced learning’.
Concept of Spaced learning
Spaced Learning is a learning method in which the same learning content is repeated three times, with two 10-minute breaks during which distractor activities on anything are performed by the students. Spaced learning has been reported to enhance long-term memory creation which forms the bases for its use in education. According to Kelley and Whatson (2013) Memory systems select from environmental stimuli those information to encode permanently. Repeated stimuli separated by timed spaces without stimuli can initiate long-term memory encoding. Eich (2018) pointed out that educational failures often reflect problems in retaining information over time, rather than in acquiring the information in the first place.
Spaced Learning is a learning method in which the condensed learning content is repeated three times, with two 10-minute breaks during which activities such as physical activities or any other distractor activities are performed by the students. It must be borne in mind that the distractor activities should be arranged in a way not to bear any academic stimuli. Its main purpose is to relax the learner, effectively tuning his mind off any aspect of what he just finished learning.
Origin of spaced learning
Spaced learning was developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909), a German psychologist and pioneer of quantitative memory research,he first identified the spacing effect. After earning his PhD in Germany, he traveled to London. Ebbinghaus began the research into memory after being influenced by the book Element of Psychophysics written by Gustav Fechner. His most important findings were in the areas of forgetting and learning curves. These are graphical representations of the process of learning and forgetting. The forgetting curve shows how a memory of new information decays in the brain, with the fastest drop occurring after 20 minutes and the curve leveling off after a day.
Spaced repetition leverages on memory phenomenon called the spacing effect, which describes how our brains learn more effectively when we space out our learning over time. Academic activities involving higher mental functions, such as analysis and synthesis, needs to be spaced out to allow new neural connections to solidify. In the late 1880’s, the psychologist named Herman Ebbinghaus became the first to systematically tackle the analysis of memory, and he did this by spending years memorizing lists of nonsensical syllables that he made up. By meticulously recording his results – how many times he studied each list, the time intervals between his study sessions, and how much he was able to remember. On the basis of the familiar experience that what is learned with difficulty is better retained. Ebbinghaus (1884) in….. ( ) was able to chart the rate at which memories “decay” over time. He showed this rate of decay in a graph called the Forgetting Curve.
There is a way to slow down the process of forgetting. We need only to recall or revisit the information after we originally come across it. Going over the information later, at intervals, helps us remember a greater percentage of the material. Persistence will allow us to recall with 100% accuracy all that we want to remember.
The learning curve is the inverse. It illustrates the rate at which we learn new information. When we use spaced repetition, the forgetting curve changes:
Frequent repetitions aid memory. Memory mastery comes from repeated exposure to the material. Ebbinghaus observes that every mental content gradually loses its capacity for being revived, or at least suffers loss in this regard under the influence of time. Even when we appear to have forgotten information, a certain quantity is stored in our subconscious minds. He referred to these memories as savings. While they cannot be consciously retrieved, they speed up the process of relearning the same information later on.
Massed learning is just very inefficient. Researchers posit that massed learning is redundant because we lose interest as we study information and retain less and less over time. Closely spaced repetition sessions leverage our initial interest before our focus wanes. With properly spaced repetition, you increase the intervals of time between learning attempts. Each learning attempt reinforces the neural connections. For example, we learn a list better if we repeatedly study it over a period of time than if we tackle it in one single burst. This one shot learning of a particular content within a given frame of time after which we move to the next topic or content is what is referred to as massed learning. Most teachers use massed learning method in teaching. Spaced sessions allow us to invest less total time to memorize than is obtained in one single session, whereas we might get bored while going over the same material again and again in a single session and when we’re bored we pay less attention. Repeated exposure to information in specifically timed intervals provides the most powerful way to fix memory into the brain. Learning occurs best when new information is incorporated gradually into the memory store rather than when it is jammed in all at once.
It is very important for schools to take Advantage of the Spacing Effect. Most teachers do not implement spaced repetition in school. Most classes teach a single topic per session, then they don’t repeat it until revision period before examination. Going over a topic once teaches very little. Students absorb next to nothing permanent. Most teachers expect their students to understand and retain a particular content after one teaching and as a result of this faulty method, many students develop bad learning habits like cramming to cope with the demands of our classes. Spaced repetition requires forward planning and a small investment of time to set up a spaced learning session, but in the long run, it saves us time as we retain information and spend less total time learning.
Why content is repeated three times with 10 minutes interval (distractor task)
It is imperative to find out based on empirical studies the actual reason why content is repeated three times with two 10 minutes interval in which distractor activities are performed. The Education Endowment Foundation (2011) conducted a feasibility study to investigate whether gaps of 10 minutes increase memory retention. The combination of 10 minute breaks and repetition of the same content results in better memory than traditional “massed” learning. The 10 minute break is very importance. It is referred to as ‘distractor task’. Most traditional method of teaching usually have a single break which comes at the end of the teaching to signify that the topic is over. By having multiple, shorter study sessions with distractor tasks in between, the learner will build a more vigorous memory of the information. Spaced learning encourages the long term retention of information.
Spaced learning can be implemented into different topics by breaking up the learning material on one topic with a 10 minutes distractor material from other activities. EICH (2018) maintained that distractors that seem to slow the rate of learning can actually be effective in enhancing long-term retention. He made the following design to illustrate model for spaced learning.
Figure 1: Typical design of an experiment on the spacing effect
Models and techniques for applying spaced learning
A typical spaced repetition system includes these key components:
- A schedule for review of information. Typical systems involve going over information after some minutes, an hour, a day, alternate days, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, then every six months. Decide the spacing pattern to adopt.
- A set duration for review sessions. If we practice for too long, our attention wanes and we retain decreasing amounts of information. Likewise, a session needs to be long enough to ensure focused immersion. A typical recommendation is no more than 30 minutes, with a break before any other review sessions.
According to Fs blog (2018) spacing Effect is a far more effective way to learn and retain information. Spacing is a very useful phenomenon which enables us to recall information and concepts if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions. We can leverage this effect by using spaced repetition to slowly learn almost anything. Learning technique called spaced repetition which efficiently organizes information can be used to achieve near perfect recall. Lambert (2009) pointed out that Large content and long duration mode of study doesn’t seem to produce durable learning. The principle of spacing effect simply implies that when you present and repeat information over intervals of time, you can increase the uptake of knowledge.
Frank (2018) stated that by introducing time intervals between study sessions, you can remember more. This is called spaced repetition, and it is the most powerful technique in existence for improving your brain’s ability to recall what you study. The 10 minutes time intervals have been scientifically proven to help you remember most information. Ebbinghaus (1884 ) stated that any considerable number of repetitions over a space of time is decidedly more advantageous than the massing of them at a single time. The Best Spaced Repetition Time Intervals according to Wozniak (1995) could best be distributed as follows:
- First repetition: 1 day
- Second repetition: 7 days
- Third repetition: 16 days
- Fourth repetition: 35 days
Benedict Carey (2008) in his book ‘How We Learn’ further came up with the following optimal intervals based on different test dates:
|Time to Test||First Study Gap|
|1 Week||1-2 Days|
|1 Month||1 Week|
|3 Months||2 Weeks|
|6 Months||3 Weeks|
|1 Year||1 Month|
The first column shows the actual period to carry out a test while the second column shows the time studied. This implies that if you performed spaced learning with spacing interval within 1 or 2 days the actual interval to give a test on the topic studied is 1 week.
Andriotis (2017) opined that our minds are not designed to learn and remember information from our very first and only encounter with it. We need time, repetition, reinforcement, and a variety of delivery modes to truly grasp, apply and recall what we learn. And this can all be achieved with the help of spaced learning. Spaced learning is endurance training for the brain. Training for knowledge retention requires regular rest periods until we’ve mastered the newly acquired knowledge. In order to ensure that we’re storing the most important knowledge in our long-term memory, we need to practice spaced learning. This approach takes place gradually over time and is characterized by:
- Short bursts of learning, each taking place through a variety of visual, auditory, didactic and interactive deliveries.
- Planned mental breaks in between each burst of learning to allow time to assimilate.
- Repetition of information using differing formats to broaden and deepen understanding, and improve recall.
Implementing spaced learning activities in the classroom requires relatively the application of small steps in the delivery of content. It follows the principle of programmed instruction. First the teacher develops a generic structure for the spaced learning aimed towards presenting one learning activity of up to ten minutes, followed by a ten-minute break. Since spaced learning hinges on repetition for retention, this implies that information related to core learning content be repeated frequently. More complex information may need to be repeated more frequently than simple information. Repetition alone is not enough due to the fact that watching the same video, even an interesting one repeatedly will undoubtedly become a boring task. This is why the information should be repeated in new and creative ways each time (using different teaching methods or skills to deliver the same content).
EEF (2011) was of the opinion that information is more easily learnt when it is repeated multiple times, with time passing between the repetitions. This approach is known as ‘spaced learning’ and is contrasted with ‘massed learning’ approach, where content is learnt all at once with no spacing. Mass learning is just the traditional method of teaching which most teachers deploy. EEF carried out a research on the feasibility of spaced learning and came up with the following conclusions:
- The spaced learning principle is based on relatively strong evidence that memory is enhanced through repetition.
- There is evidence to prove that the most promising approach to spaced learning combines the use of both ten-minute and 24-hour spaces between curriculum content.
The principle of spaced learning is supported by evidence from two scientific fields, neuroscience and cognitive psychology. The neuroscience literature supports the use of shorter spaces between learning (of around ten minutes), and the cognitive psychology literature supports longer spaces (of around 24 hours). The Spaced Learning is designed to improve pupils’ learning by applying findings from neuroscience. Spaced learning’ involves repeating material at defined intervals, with unrelated activity in between, and has been shown in the lab to improve memory and retention.
Weinstein and Smith (2016) Pointed out that Spaced learning is designed to help students learn how to study effectively. It is very important for students to space out their studying over time instead of cramming right before an examination. Spaced practice is the exact opposite of cramming. When you cram, you study for a long, intense period of time close to an examination. When you space your learning, you take that same amount of study time, and spread it out across a much longer period of time. Doing it this way, that same amount of study time will produce more long-lasting learning. For example, five hours spread out over two weeks is better than the same five hours spent studying before the examination. Spacing your learning requires advance planning.
Spaced learning activities are separated by breaks which is more like a mental vacations aimed towards redirecting the mind to think about something else, or nothing else. This way, the brain has less of a load to carry at any given time. Learners feel reduced mental exhaustion and are more likely to assimilate the information they’re learning when they’re learning it. Spaced learning is all about beating the forgetting curve, i.e. our natural human tendency to forget information over a period of time. Through the use of bite-sized chunks of content, presented in different ways, repeatedly over time, learners are more likely to absorb and understand new information. And the better their understanding, the more likely they are to recall that information at a later stage.
According to Casebourne (2015) Effective long-term (learning that last very long) learning is rarely achieved by a one-off teaching. In a one off teaching, as soon as the class ends, forgetting is likely to begin. It was first spotted by Ebbinghaus in 1885, that we have not only a “learning curve” but also a “forgetting curve” (where we lose what we learn if we don’t use it regularly). Effective learning strategies should therefore not only help people learn as quickly and efficiently as possible, but also minimize forgetting (Caple,1997). There is a body of research that suggests that spacing learning over time helps people learn more quickly and remember better (Castel, Logan, Haber, & Viehman, 2012). It has been found to be effective in various domains, from sales training to language learning to medicine ( Grote, 1995; Lambert, 2009).
Designing a learning program with spacing in mind requires you to present learners with a concept or learning objective, allow a period of time to pass (days, weeks, or months) and then present the same concept again. This might involve a few repetitions, or many, depending on how complex the content is (Toppino & Cohen, 2010). Similarly, the intervals between repetitions might be adjusted depending on the content and the audience. Will Thalheimer’s research gives some useful pointers about the effect of using longer or shorter intervals. Repeating the concept might mean simply re-introducing that concept exactly as it was presented earlier or presenting it in a slightly different way. For example, concepts might be presented using a variety of different media, stories, and so forth. Designers using the spaced approach need to settle on several different ways to present the same point, rather than thinking about the single best way, as we might for a more traditional e-learning course or face-to-face session. Spacing repetition of key messages has been adopted by marketing companies. They set out to create a ‘persuasive’ effect through a cultivation of familiarity which is achieved through repetition.
According to century Tech (2017) Spaced learning is the principle that information is more easily learnt when it is split into short time frames and repeated multiple times, with time passing between repetitions. For example, if you have 30 minutes to spend studying one topic, it is better to split the time into three 10-minute study sessions than to lump it into one 30-minute session. Karpicke (2012) identified that memory degrades quickly if information is not reviewed or repeated. Despite this, students in schools ‘mass learn’, where they study a topic in one go then move on to the next one, only reviewing the topic when they come to revising it for an examination. Revision often involves intensely studying a topic for a short amount of time, retaining the information for the examination and then forgetting it as they have not built a robust memory of the information. However, new research builds on the suggestion that spaced learning, where a topic is studied in short bursts and then reviewed at a later date, may be a more effective way of learning and retaining information.
Spacing English Language with e-learning contents as Distractor
Typical design of spaced learning using senior school 11 English language content takes the following format.
Topic: Subject verb agreement (concord)
Time: 30 minutes
Spacing interval: (Two) 10 minutes.
Overall time: 50 minutes( 30 minutes + 20 minutes ).
The teacher breaks the 30 minutes into 3 giving us (three)10 minutes for the teaching of the same topic with an additional (two)10 minutes break in between in which the students are to do anything that will take their mind away from the topic taught ( this is the reason it is called a distractor). The last 10 minutes should be used for testing or evaluation.
1st 10 minutes teaching : teacher teaches the content ‘subject verb agreement’ using lecture method as a delivery mode. The teacher breaks the topic into its sub unit for easy teaching. E.g meaning of subject, meaning of verb, singular subjects and plural subjects, singular verbs and plural verbs, rules for combining both ( a singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb). Let the students know that ‘I’ is the only singular subject that takes a plural verb and that ‘I’ under verb to be takes the verb ‘am’ for present tense construction.
|Singular subject||Plurul subject|
|He, She, It, John||They, We, James and John.|
|Singular verbs||Plurul verbs|
|Is, was, does, has, sings talks||Are, do, have, sing, talk.|
Rule1: A singular subject takes a singular verb.
Rule 2: A plural subject takes a plural verb. Etcetera
- She/ was here yesterday.
- She/ does not understand.
- We /do not understand.
- We/ have to go now
1st 10 minutes break (1st Distractor): Students go out for ten minutes to the computer lab to play games on the system. Note. In the absence of any of the ICT equipment, football can be substituted.
2nd 10 minutes teaching : Teacher repeats the same content but this time he uses discussion method as a different delivery mode.
2nd 10 minutes break (2nd Distractor): Students go out for ten minutes to play games on simulation or virtual reality. Note. In the absence of any of the ICT equipment basketball or handball can be substituted. The important thing is for them to do something else to take their mind away from what they studied.
3rd 10 minutes teaching : This last 10 minutes is used for testing or evaluation. The teacher sets some questions based on the topic taught. E.g.
- Grace…….. here yesterday ( is, was, are were)
- Students….. lectures under the tree in most schools ( receive, receives, receiving, receipt)
- Peter and John…. Students in this school presently ( is, were, are, was)
- She…… understand what you are teaching ( do, is, does, have)
- The price of the newspaper…..gone up ( have, is, was has)
Advantages of spaced learning
Spaced learning have the following advantages over massed learning traditional method of learning.
- Spaced learning involves encouraging students to quickly switch through activities. For example, a teacher can teach a topic within ten minutes and then allows the student 10 minutes football game outside the classroom
- Developers of the teaching methods claim that it’s more effective than simply teaching students by utilizing traditional methods for four hours.
- The key is in the brain cells. It helps them to create the connections that they need to actually remember the knowledge.
- It has the additional benefit of allowing people to relax. If they are compressing sections of the syllabus into such small sections then there’s no time to worry. It’s all about the learning before moving on to another session of activity.
- Spacing helps our memory to retain information.
- It takes a longer time to plan spaced learning
- Learners may be carried away by the distractor activities.
- Some distractor activities might become an intrusive external stimuli that occupies the mind when the next lecture begins
- It might be boring repeating and listening to the same content three times in a given period.
- If contents are broken down into small bits, it will take a very long time to complete the recommended syllabus for the term or semester.
- The inability of a teacher to utilize different teaching methods or skills to deliver content during each break might result to monotony setting in.
- Spaced learning is not appropriate when large amount of contents are to be covered in order to beat deadline before examination.
- Spaced learning is appropriate for children rather than adult learners.
Solutions to challenges
- Teachers should be trained on how to implement space learning in the classroom.
- Spaced learning contents should be planned ahead of time before actual class implementation.
- Distractor activities should be planned not to have any external stumuli effect on the learners.
- Teachers should acquire knowledge about the different teaching method and teaching skills especially those which emphasizes learner centeredness.
- Distractor activities should be selected ahead of the class period to avoid indecision on what activity to engage on when the learners are outside.
Andriotis, N. (2017) Unforgettable Technique: Spaced Learning is the Key to RetentionRetrieved from https://www.talentlms.com/blog/spaced-learning-knowledge-retention/
Caple, C. (1997). The effects of spaced practice and spaced review on recall and retention using computer-assisted instruction. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences & Engineering, 57, 6603.
Carey,B (2015) How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens Paperback. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/How-We-Learn-Surprising-Happens/dp/0812984293/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=colinfgee-20&linkId=7df0123a3175f0ed1f1ca7f55c6c
Casebourne (2015) Spaced Learning: An Approach to Minimize the Forgetting Curve. Retrieved from https://www.td.org/insights/spaced-learning-an-approach-to-minimize-the-forgetting-curve
Castel, A. D., Logan, J. M., Haber, S., & Viehman, E. J. (2012). Metacognition and the spacing effect: the role of repetition, feedback, and instruction on judgments of learning for massed and spaced rehearsal. Metacognition and Learning. doi:10.1007/s11409-012-9090-3
Century Tech (2017)What is spaced learning and why does it matter? Retrieved from https://medium.com/@CENTURYTech/what-is-spaced-learning-and-why-does-it-matter-7d2ecf2f0382
Eich, Eric (2018). The Cognitive Science of Learning Enhancement: Optimizing Long-Term Retention”. Retrieved from https://ctlt.ubc.ca/resources/isotl/resources-archives/the-cognitive-science-of-learning-enhancement-optimizing-long-term-retention/
Ejinwa, E. (2018) Roles of educational technologist in solving adult learners problems. Enugu
Frank, T (2018) How to Remember More of What You Learn with Spaced Repetition. Retrieved from https://collegeinfogeek.com/spaced-repetition-memory-technique/.
Fs blog(2018) The Spacing Effect: How to Improve Learning and Maximize Retention. Retrieved from https://fs.blog/2018/12/spacing-effect/
Grote, M. (1995). The Effect of Massed Versus Spaced Practice on Retention and Problem-Solving in High School Physics. he Ohio Journal of Science, 95, 243–247. Retrieved from papers://3a07567f-5013-4eec-86cd-a5ef539fd065/Paper/p4355
Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885) Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Ebbinghaus/index.htm.
Kelly,P & Whatson,T (2013)Making long-term memories in minutes: a spaced learning pattern from memory research in education. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00589/full
Lambert, C (2009) Learning by Degrees. Retrieved from https://harvardmagazine.com/2009/11/spaced-education-boosts-learning
Lambert, C. (2009). “Spaced education” improves learning. Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from http://harvardmagazine.com/2009/11/spaced-education-boosts-learning
The Education Endowment Foundation (2011) Space Learning. Retrieved from https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/spaced-learning/
Toppino, T. C., & Cohen, M. S. (2010). Metacognitive control and spaced practice: clarifying what people do and why. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 1480–1491. doi:10.1037/a0020949
Weinstein,Y & Smith,M (2016) Learn How to Study Using Spaced Practice. Retrieved from http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/21-1
Wozniak, P (1995) Spaced repetition in the practice of learning – Research background. Retrieved from https://www.supermemo.com/en/archives1990-2015/english/ol/background
Correspondence can be directed to:
(1)Dr. Ejinwa, Emenike. (2) Dr. Ojiaku F.C
College of Education
Department of Adult and Continuing Education
Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike