Visit the Learning to Learn Home Page to learn about all of the strategies in the series.

What is spaced practice?

 

How does spaced practice help?

Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that spaced practice, also known as distributed learning or spaced repetition, helps students learn better. Specifically, it helps them to retain information for longer periods of time compared to sessions during which learning is "massed", commonly known as cramming. After learning a new concept, skill or idea, learners should give their mind time to forget so that the brain, in subsequent study sessions, must struggle to recall the information that was learned previously. To maximize educational outcomes, spaced practice should be combined with retrieval practice to force the brain to search for related information and create new connections which improves the quality of learning. The optimal timing between study sessions varies depending on the desired retention period. Refer to the links in the Instructors' Toolkit below for more information.

What are some spaced practice strategies?

First and foremost, students should be educated about the benefits of spaced practice. Spaced practice should be incorporated into in-class activities and assessments as well as out-of-class exercises and homework. For example, in order to complete an in-class task, students should be required to recall key facts, concepts or ideas that were learned earlier in the course. To maximize the benefits, students should be encouraged to recall the information without referring to their notes, books or other course materials. Feedback following the activity is important to ensure that misunderstandings are corrected immediately. All quizzes and exams, not just the final exam, should be cumulative, thus requiring students to use spaced practice when preparing for formal assessments. Like in-class activities, homework should require students to regularly retrieve that which was learned earlier in the course.

How do we inspire students to use spaced practice?