Why Spaced Learning Is The New Black

In the modern world, time is an extremely rare commodity. At the same time, however, we are required to know more and more to get further up the career ladder. This is an impossible combination and one that many find highly stressful.

It is no surprise, therefore, that psychologists, educational theorists and teachers have been seeking the answer to a more efficient and more effective learning process. Many have been put forward with varying degrees of success or failure.

In this article we will be focusing on the concept of “spaced learning”, a revolutionary form of education that really is set to change everything in both formal and informal learning.

Understanding the Basics of Spaced Learning

The basic structure of spaced learning is exactly what the name suggests: periods of learning that have spaces between them. While this may sound simple, it is important to get the exact intensity of the learning periods right and the spaces also have to be carefully laid out.

The most agreed upon structure to follow is:

  • An intensive session of learning content,
  • A 10-minute break that makes use of a range of distracting physical activities such as: teamwork games, basketball dribbling or clay modelling.
  • Repeat the same first session of learning,
  • Another 10-minute physical distraction session,
  • Finally repeat the same session of learning.

The basis for this method is on the understanding of encoding information for long-term memory. The intensive learning periods are referred to as stimuli and the neuroscientists working on developing the theory found that the ideal total length of stimuli should not last for more than 20 minutes.

It is also important that the content taught in the three sessions remains highly similar. While it might be necessary to create minor changes between each session, it is the repetition of the information that secures it in the long-term memory of the student.

While this is the most contemporary view of spaced learning there are several variations of the concept. As the theory progresses, the exact spacing that is required will become clear. Currently there are theories that suggest the repetition should occur only minutes later or findings that believe this can actually be more damaging.

For a more comprehensive look at an alternative view to the ideal spacing of learning, there is a lot of useful information in Will Thalheimer’s paper: Spacing Learning Over Time.

Why Is This A Change of Direction for Education?

The main reason that the most modern type of spaced learning is so revolutionary is because it has been shown to condense the movement of information from short-term memory to long-term in a matter of minutes rather than months or years.

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These results are all achieved by almost completely ignoring traditional teaching styles. As this alternative learning theory is so different from usual concepts it has been met with varying degrees of acceptance. This could also be the reason that the process is not more widespread and used throughout formal education.

In a number of studies,which were carried out with students and teachers, it was clear that spaced learning was difficult to adjust to at first but quickly became a crucial part of the education process.

Many teachers have reported that spaced learning was extremely enjoyable to use in the classroom and felt that it was a positive experience for both students and for the development of the teacher’s understanding of learning. The only real negative responses came in the form of a fear of change.

Students that took part in the experimental use of spaced learning reacted extremely positively. Some of the best accounts of the uses of the process and how students were able to use the method to better retain information can be found in the academic paper, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Examples of Where the Method Works Best

While many teachers are able to see the benefits of spaced learning it can be difficult to know where to start implementing it into a completely different system. It is important to remember that the spaced learning approach is not supposed to be confined to a classroom and should be a part of everyday learning and education.

Donald Clark, in his post, has provided some of the best methods of implementing this theory into the classroom and everyday life.

To understand the effectiveness of the method it should be noted that in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience paper, the researchers found that a group of learners who received four months of traditional teaching and a similar group that received an hour of space learning achieved the same level of scores in identical biology tests.

It is certainly clear that spaced learning has a powerful effect on a learner but it is also clear that further research is required to explore if these results can be expanded to a wider range of subjects and types of learner.

The Future of Spaced Learning

Due to the complete difference between spaced learning and more traditional styles of teaching, it is certain that any development and implementation of the theory will be gradual.

As there have been a range of studies that show the incredible ability for learners to retain information, even after only minutes of intensive learning periods, it is clear that this should be researched and developed to meet the needs of formal learning.

The push for the development of spaced learning comes from a range of psychologists, neuroscientists and leaders of education. To further your understanding of the future of spaced learning, Innovation Unit has some of the best resources and provides great opportunities to completely implement this theory.