Unforgettable Technique: Spaced Learning is the Key to Retention

Spaced Learning: The key to knowledge retention - TalentLMS Blog

Remember the time you attended that full-day training course, immediately understood all of the content, and recalled every intellectual detail for years after? No?
Chances are that you’ve never actually had such an experience. And you’re not alone. This is because 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.

What Is Spaced Learning?

The pioneering headmaster and researcher, Paul Kelley, was first to explain the spaced learning technique.  This technique assumes that our minds are like a filing room. Every time we learn and absorb new information, it gets filed under temporary.

If we revisit that information, truly understand how to apply it, and reinforce it, then that information gets moved to the long-term memory filing cabinet.

If we fail to revisit, apply and reinforce the knowledge we’ve learned, then after a while we clear it from the temporary cabinet altogether, to make room for new learnings.

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.
  • Application and engagement with content to reinforce understanding and improve retention.
  • Repetition of information using differing formats to broaden and deepen understanding, and improve recall.

Think of the spaced learning method as training for a marathon. To run a marathon, the athlete must become ‘running fit’. To build endurance, sports scientists often advise a program where the athlete runs for 20 minutes, walks for 20 minutes. Then a week later, they might run for 25 minutes and walk for 15. Until eventually they are running the full distance.

Our brain, too, behaves like a muscle – because it can train to improve its cognitive functioning. Spaced learning is endurance training for the brain! So just like training for a marathon, training for knowledge retention requires regular rest periods until we’ve mastered the newly acquired knowledge.

In fact, you might want to take a short break right now? Maybe go for a quick run?

Spaced Learning: The key to knowledge retention - TalentLMS Blog

Memorable Benefits of the Spaced Learning Technique

Now, spaced learning might sound like a slower process than some of the more conventional approaches (like a full-day training course). But spaced learning can be super effective, and offers plenty of benefits.

Spaced learning…

Takes the Load Off

Working and learning at the same time is no easy feat. If employees are challenged in their daily work, then adding training to the mix creates something of a heavy load on the mind. And if their minds are tired, then their chances of learning, understanding, absorbing and recalling new knowledge become slim.

And what’s the point of investing time and resources into training programs, if employees are unlikely to recall that information in their daily work?

This is why spaced learning activities are separated by breaks – mental vacations for 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. So employees feel reduced mental exhaustion and are more likely to assimilate the information they’re learning when they’re learning it. They’ll have more mental energy for the daily challenge presented by work, too.

Improves Retention and Recall

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.

This, in turn, improves their ability to draw on important skills and knowledge when they need it most, in the real world!

Connects to the Real-world

Engaging learners in realistic application and practice of new knowledge is key to spaced learning. Opportunities for application, such as role-plays in workshops and simulations in eLearning courses, are used to link knowledge to real situations in the work world. Furthermore, by allowing employees to practice what they’ve learned on-the-job, knowledge is more firmly engrained in their memory.

This means that when employees come across situations in the future, after training has been concluded, they’re able to draw on the most relevant and applicable knowledge, and ultimately, to be more productive and effective in their role. This, in turn, adds value to the business.

It’s hard not to be excited about spaced learning once you’ve heard the benefits. So let’s talk about how to work this unforgettable technique into eLearning courses.

Incorporating Spaced Learning Activities into Training

Despite its large-sized advantages, implementing spaced learning activities in training requires relatively small steps. Here’s the ‘how to’ on spaced eLearning.

Get the Structure Right

First off, you need to get the structure of your eLearning course right. The generic structure for the spaced learning technique is to present one learning activity of up to five minutes, followed by a ten-minute break. Then repeat two times.

Take, for example, a 5-minute video, interrupted by a ten-minute break, continued for 5 minutes, followed by a 10-minute break, and then completed with a list of multiple-choice questions based on the video content.

But while the structure of learning, rest, learn, rest, learn is widely applicable, the time intervals should be tailored to learning needs, content, and audience. Activities on more complex information usually need to exceed 5 minutes, and may also require lengthier breaks.

Likewise, adults may cope with better with longer activities than children. So, get the structure right. Right for spaced learning, and right for your training needs.

Build in Creative Repetition

Because spaced learning is big on repetition for retention, spaced eLearning requires that information related to core learning outcomes be repeated frequently. More complex information may need to be repeated more frequently than simple information.

But repetition alone is not enough. Because watching the same video, even an interesting one, again, and again and again, will undoubtedly become a boring task. This is why the information should be repeated in new, creative ways, each and every time.

Luckily, a good learning management system will offer a delicious array of features that lend themselves to creative repetition. Videos, infographics, simulations, notes, quizzes and other exciting features make this step towards spaced learning rather a fun one.

Create Opportunities for Real-world Application

Closely linked to creative repetition, is the real-world application. In representing content, opportunities for active engagement with information are an important way to achieve true understanding.

Didactic learning activities, like notes and infographics, will almost always be a necessary component of an eLearning course. But these should be complemented by components that require the learner to apply their knowledge, such as interactive videos, branching scenarios, teamwork tasks, simulations, and quizzes.

By using applications that resemble real tasks and situations in the workplace, employees are more likely to recall and apply that information in their roles. This translates into an improved return on training investment for the business, and better equips the employee to perform well in their work.

Encourage Practice, Practice, Practice

The training itself is of course important. But everything that the employee learns during training will likely fade away eventually if they’re not able to practice it in the workplace.

Employees should be encouraged to practice their new knowledge at work. This practice is not only encouraged by supervisors and managers, but also through the eLearning course.

Gamification offers reward structures, levels, and badge systems that motivate learners to keep learning. Through practice, employees are equipped to complete the next activity in the course, thereby moving to the next level, or achieving a reward.

Remember Spaced Learning

We hope that you’ve learned something from this read, that you remember everything you’ve learned, and that you took some breaks along the way.
While the steps above have focused on eLearning, their essence can be easily applied to on-site training, too. But if you’re ready to start practicing spaced learning in your eLearning courses, then start with the LMS named Leader for 2017.