Spacing Effect versus Spaced Learning
There is a lot of new terminology being used when talking about neuroscience and how it’s research can be applied to increase learning. Two terms you often hear—and should be clarified— are: ‘Spacing Effect’ and ‘Spaced Learning’.
Wikipedia defines them as:
The spacing effect’s impact on learning has been extensively study and results published. In 2006 Will Thalheimer published a report “Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says” that provides an excellent summary of that research.
What are some of the key take-aways from the research?
- Repetitions—if well designed—are very effective in supporting learning.
- Spaced repetitions are generally more effective that non-spaced repetitions.
- Both presentations of leaner materials and retrieval practice opportunities produce benefits when utilized as spaced repetitions.
- Spacing is particularly beneficial if long-term retention is the goal. Spacing helps minimize forgetting.
- …real learning doesn’t usually occur in one-time events.
Spaced learning has been thoroughly researched in the academic setting and seems very powerful when teaching math and science. Therefore, it may not be that helpful for the content in most corporate learning programs.
Spacing Effect: How can we apply it?
The research provides some good guidelines, but how can we apply them?
In a previous post on Neuroscience, “What Was Old is New Again”, FKA’s Systematic Learning Process or PAF model, was introduced.
This model provides an excellent framework for incorporating the spacing effect into your design. The first step in the design process is to structure the learning event. A very typical learning structure is a course composed of a series of modules with the modules broken into lessons. Starting with the smallest unit, the lesson, you can start to introduce spacing effect design elements.
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Without considering spacing effects the lesson structure could look like this:
The Spacing Effect can be added to your instructional design toolkit with little additional investment of effort and has the potential to yield lasting performance improvement.