The Learning Tech

What is Spaced Learning?

August 01 2019 | (0) Comments

spaced learning

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything we taught our learners stayed with them forever? Wishful thinking! The reality is that learners naturally forget over time. This concept is not new, in fact, Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered the forgetting curve back in 1885. He also coined the spacing effect. The spacing effect proposes that recall is improved when learning is distributed over time. Ideally, learning sessions are short and focused, incorporate breaks, and are followed by practice at intervals to help maintain and extend retention.

More than Making a Splash

Think about it this way. The traditional, or “massed,” learning approach is like throwing a stone in the water. It is a one-time event. The stone makes a big splash and sends out a few ripples. However, the glassy surface of the water soon returns—leaving no visible evidence that the event ever occurred.

Spaced learning, also referred to as distributed practice, can be likened to skipping a stone. The stone touches the water at multiple points across the surface, making many sets of ripples that take longer to dissipate. In spaced learning, the goal is to connect with the learner at multiple points in time…sending out as many learning “ripples” as possible.

That’s why it is important to approach design training that combines formal learning opportunities (like eLearning and classroom training) that introduce concepts with on-demand performance support (like job aids) that walk learners through tasks at a later point in time, when they are on-the-job. A training approach that supports learners at multiple moments of need.

There are two types of strategies that can help space out learning and enhance retention: formal learning strategies that can help guide the design of your initial training, and performance support strategies that are follow-ups or add-ons to the training.

Formal Learning Strategies:

  • Go Micro:  Use a microlearning approach to break up content into a series of short, targeted sessions. Check out the Duolingo app for a great example of this approach.
  • Take a Break:  If a more traditional eLearning or Instructor-Led (classroom) solution approach is required, then build in frequent breaks.
  • Build a Foundation:  Start with familiar (refresher) material before introducing new material.
  • Chunk It:  Learners can only retain small chunks of information at a time. Follow the “Seven Plus/Minus Two” rule to keep learning digestible.
  • Get Flashy:  Flashcards can help learners review and recall information. They can range from “old school” paper flashcards to a high-tech, customizable flashcard app like Clever Deck that utilizes a spaced learning algorithm.
  • Practice Makes Perfect:  Application helps move knowledge from short- to long-term memory. Provide periodic opportunities to practice via quizzes, knowledge checks, problem-solving challenges, games, and activities.
  • “Edutain” Them:  Quick videos or animations can capture interest and help learning “stick.”

 Performance Support Strategies:

  • Keep It Fresh:  Follow-up with periodic refresher emails. Create your own or use a tool like Nelly.
  • Provide Tools:  Give your learners an on-the-job tool kit containing memory aids (like mnemonic devices) and job aids to help them recall and apply what they’ve learned in the real world—at the moment of need.
  • Go Social:  Encourage discussions via social media apps (Whatsapp) or communities of practice to spark thought and keep concepts fresh in your learners’ minds.

As with any learning approach, Spaced Learning has both benefits and challenges to consider.

  • Minimizes time away from work for training
  • Avoids overloading the learner at the initial learning session
  • Improves retention of learning over time
  • Provides opportunities for real-world application on the job
  • Necessitates advance planning
  • Requires creativity to present and review content in different and interesting ways
  • Negates efficacy if the space between sessions is too wide (new material = shorter gaps vs. familiar material = longer gaps)

If you’d like more information about spaced learning, or if you’d like some help getting started, ePath Learning’s Pro Services team can help! We can work with you to tailor a spaced approach to the specific needs of YOUR audience.

Kris Castiaux Instructional DesignerKris Castiaux | Learning Environment Concierge | ePath Learning, Inc.

About the Author: Kris Castiaux is a Learning Environment Concierge (instructional designer) focused on creating impactful and effective learning experiences and environments. She’s always on the lookout for innovative ways to engage learners within the budget and technical constraints of the project. When she has a few days off, you may find Kris and her husband cruising the Caribbean or the Las Vegas strip!