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Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition

I am sure all of you have heard about rote learning, one we love to call “ratta” or memorization. Typically, we all just like to make fun of it, about how we have to ratta so much content. But is this rote learning really beneficial, or is it pointless like most of us believe?
To answer this, I’ll make use of an example. Have you ever forgotten a formula in the middle of your exam? You’re trying your best to remember, but can’t! Then, you realize you have a conceptual understanding and can derive it. The derivation process works fine, but let’s say you did this for each and every question you had to solve. You’d simply run out of time. It is impossible to recreate or derive things so fast.
Everybody loves to make fun of rote learning, but I think memorization has a genuine role to play in our lives. It saves you the cognitive effort so that you can focus your thinking on higher order tasks that demand your full understanding. It’s in learning all these small facts by heart that we can create the building blocks of learning, and solve grander challenges.
Now, we know that ratta is important in our learning lives, but I admit sometimes it can get immensely tough.
Have you ever just stared at your history book, looking at the names of hundreds of rajas and ranis that you have to remember, or struggled to memorize dates of important events around the world? It can get boring far too quickly. And, memory decay process makes you forget things in no time.
What if I told you that there was a secret learning technique, a tool that one of the most famous learning psychologists, Hermann Ebbinghaus, spent his life creating. A learning technique leveraging how your brain works, a technique called spaced repetition.


In this module, we will discuss the concept of spaced repetition, and will explore the attributes of this technique and how it can help improve students' learning outcomes. By the end of this lesson plan, students will have a better understanding of the spaced repetition technique and how to use it effectively.

What is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is the oldest technique in memory science that is the most powerful, reliable, and easy to use.
Distributed learning or spaced repetition is one of the longest researched topics in cognitive psychology, starting from Hermann Ebbinghaus’s studies of his own recall as early as 1885.
For too long, we have treated spacing as an optional strategy and an educational add-on. Conversely, spacing is fundamental to learning that is present in the tiniest neural connections of the simplest of animals. Experiments have shown that even fruit flies can be taught to fear certain odors and this memory is stickier if their training sessions are spaced out.
Numerous studies in cognitive and educational psychology have demonstrated that spacing out repeated encounters with the study material over time, produces superior long-term learning, compared with repetitions that are massed together.
Spaced repetition especially helps us in subject areas where there is a lot of rote memorization, such as in learning foreign languages, scientific terms, concepts, and even musical scales.
Here’s an interesting fact. William James, the philosopher and dean of American psychology, was continually giving advice on how to teach, learn, and remember. In his book Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals Quotes, written as early as 1900, he says, “Cramming seeks to stamp things by intense application before the ordeal, but a thing thus learned can form few associations. On the other hand, the same thing recurring on different days, read, recited again and again gets well-wrought in our mental structure.”
A popular study was undertaken by Professor Bahrick, a psychologist at Ohio Wesleyan University. Bahrick along with his family of four members conducted an experiment in learning, which lasted several years.
As part of this research, they all studied a new language and prepared flash cards which they would revise over different intervals of time. After 5 years, they scored the highest test results on a set of words that they had studied once every 2 months over 26 weeks.
That means they had scored best on the longest running most widely spaced schedule!

Why Does Spaced Study Work?

One of the reasons spaced repetition works as an effective learning technique is because it adds contextual cues every time you sit to study. You start noticing words that you have trouble remembering. As a result, you find out what your weaknesses are and you correct them. After more than a hundred years of research, we can say that spaced review does improve test scores and retention, and lasts longer than simply cramming!
The concept of spaced repetition has been around for centuries, but the modern scientific approach to spaced repetition is often attributed to the work of the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. In the late 19th century, Ebbinghaus conducted a series of experiments to study the nature of memory and forgetting. He discovered that memory decayed rapidly at first and then more slowly over time, and that the rate of decay could be slowed by repetition.
In the 1930s and 1940s, researchers like C. A. Mace, P. A. Lloyd, and H. F. Spitzer further expanded the concept of spaced repetition and applied it to education and learning. In the 1970s and 1980s, computer scientists Sebastian Leitner and Paul Pimsleur developed algorithms and software to automate the process of spaced repetition and make it more accessible.
Today, spaced repetition is widely used in educational and language- learning software, and continues to be studied by researchers in the
fields of psychology, neuroscience, computer science, and so on.

How to Adopt Spaced Repetition in Learning?

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves reviewing material at increasing intervals to improve long-term retention. The strategy of spaced repetition is to optimize learning by presenting information at the right time for maximum retention and recall.
The basic principle of spaced repetition is that the brain learns best when information is reviewed at gradually increasing intervals. This means that when you first learn a new piece of information, you should review it shortly after to strengthen your memory of it. Then, as time passes and your memory of the information starts to fade, you should review it again. By spacing out your reviews over time, you can reinforce your memory and recall of the information, while also reducing the overall amount of time you need to spend studying.
To implement the spaced repetition strategy, you can use tools such as flash cards or specialized software that can adapt the timing of review intervals based on your performance. For example, if you answer a flash card correctly, the software will schedule the next review at a later date. If you answer incorrectly, it will bring the review forward to help you reinforce your memory of the information.
Overall, the strategy of spaced repetition is to optimize learning by presenting information at the right time for maximum retention and recollection, and gradually increasing the interval between reviews as you strengthen your memory.

Facts about Spaced Repetition

Know these specifics about spaced repetition:
  • Spaced repetition is based on the principle of “spacing effect,” which implies that memory improves when learning material is spaced out over time rather than done together.
  • Spaced repetition has proven benefits of improvement in learning and memory retention across subjects such as vocabulary, foreign languages, and medicine.
  • Spaced repetition can be implemented using a variety of techniques such as use of flash cards, digital flash card apps, and spaced repetition software.
  • The effectiveness of spaced repetition depends on many factors, such as frequency and intensity of repetitions, the difficulty of the material being learned, and the individual's own learning style.
  • Some popular spaced repetition software programs include Anki, SuperMemo, and Memrise.

Why Does Spaced Repetition Work?

The reasons why spaced repetition is so effective is because of the following:
  • Optimal timing: Spaced repetition helps us to repeat information at optimal intervals for memory retention. By reviewing information just as you're about to forget it, you strengthen your memory of it and make it easier to recollect later.
  • Active recall: The technique uses active recall, which is a more effective way of learning than passive reading or listening. Active recall involves trying to recollect information from memory, which helps to reinforce neural pathways and make the information easier to remember in the future.
  • Reduced workload: Spaced repetition reduces the overall amount of time you need to spend studying by focusing on reviewing the most important information at the right time. This means you can spend less time studying, while still achieving better results
  • Long-term retention: Spaced repetition is designed to optimize long-term retention of information rather than short-term memorization. This means that you're more likely to remember information over a longer period of time even if you haven’t reviewed it recently.
  • Personalized learning: Spaced repetition can be personalized to your own learning style and needs. By adapting the review intervals based on your performance, you can focus on the areas where you need the most help and skip the information that you already know well.
Overall, spaced repetition is an effective learning strategy because it takes advantage of the brain's natural way of learning and memory retention, and optimizes the review intervals to reinforce and strengthen neural pathways over time.

Easy to Apply Evidence-Based Strategies for Spaced Recognition

Spaced repetition can be applied to a wide range of learning exercises, including:
  • Flash cards: Create a set of flash cards with questions on one side and answers on the other. Review the flash cards using a spaced repetition schedule, with shorter intervals for cards you struggle with and longer intervals for cards you know well.
  • Quizzes: Create quizzes on a particular topic or subject and review the questions using a spaced repetition schedule. Focus on the questions you answered incorrectly or had difficulty with, and review them more frequently.
  • Memorization exercises: Use spaced repetition to memorize facts, dates, or other information for a particular subject. Focus on the information that is most important or difficult to remember, and review it at spaced intervals.
  • Problem-solving exercises: Use spaced repetition to review problem-solving strategies and techniques for a particular subject. Focus on difficult problems and solutions, and review them at regular intervals.
  • Writing exercises: Use spaced repetition to improve writing skills by reviewing grammar rules, vocabulary words, and sentence structures at spaced intervals.
  • Practical applications: Apply the information you're learning in practical situations, such as in conversations, real-world problems, or simulations. Use spaced repetition to reinforce the concepts you are using in these applications.
Practical applications: Apply the information you're learning in practical situations, such as in conversations, real-world problems, or simulations. Use spaced repetition to reinforce the concepts you are using in these applications.

How Is Spaced Repetition Implemented?

Spaced repetition can be implemented in a few different ways, depending on your learning goals and preferences. Here are some general steps for implementing spaced repetition:
  • Identify the material you want to learn: This could be anything from vocabulary words to historical dates to mathematical equations. Choose a manageable amount of material to start with.
  • Create flash cards or use a spaced repetition software: You can create physical flash cards or use digital flash cards on platforms like Quizlet or Anki. These tools allow you to input information and schedule review intervals based on your performance.
  • Review the study material: Start by reviewing the material daily or every few days, depending on how quickly you want to learn it. When you review the material, try to recall it from memory without looking at the answer first.
  • Use the spaced repetition algorithm: As you review the material, use the spaced repetition algorithm to schedule future reviews based on how much you remember the information. If you remember the information well, the review interval will be longer. If you don't remember it well, the interval will be shorter.
  • Keep reviewing: Continue to review the material at the scheduled intervals until you feel confident that you have mastered it. Then, move on to the next set of material and repeat the process.
It's important to note that spaced repetition is most effective when used consistently over time. Make a habit of reviewing your flash cards or using your software every day or every few days to reinforce your memory of the material.
Measure learning outcomes by using a standardized test or assessment. Analyze the results of the learning experiment to determine whether spaced repetition had a significant effect on learning outcomes. This could involve comparing the performance of the experimental group to a control group (refer to the Learning Exercise mentioned later), or looking at changes in performance over time.
Based on the results of the analysis, refine the learning experiment as necessary to improve learning outcomes, adjusting the frequency or intensity of spaced repetitions, and modifying the learning materials.

Exploring Spaced Repetition

Exploring Exploring : To explore the typical learning challenges faced by you, try answering the following questions:
  • What are some of the difficulties you face when trying to retain and recall information?
  • Have you ever struggled with forgetting information that you previously learned? If so, how did you try to address this issue?
To assess your understanding of spaced repetition, you can discuss the below points with your classmates and friends.
  • What is your current study strategy to retain and recall information?
  • How do you typically prepare for exams or quizzes?
  • Think of one instance when you were able to learn something better when you gave time gaps in your learning.
  • Have you tried to split an intensive course into study intervals?
  • Does it help you to grasp better if you try to repeat the learning process to grasp it better?
  • What are some of the strategies that you use to systematically schedule learning?

Active Learning Case Exercise

One exercise that you as a student could do to better understand the concept of spaced repetition is to create flash cards. The steps involved in this exercise are as follows:
  • Choose a list of 20 new vocabulary words that you want to learn.
  • Divide the list into two groups of 10 words each. Group A will be the control group, and Group B will be the experimental group.
  • Study the 10 words in Group A for 30 minutes using any traditional learning method, such as reading, writing, or repeating them out loud.
  • Study the 10 words in Group B for 30 minutes using spaced repetition. Use flash cards or an app that implements a spaced repetition algorithm to review the words at pre-determined intervals.
  • After the initial study session, take a break of one day.
  • On day two, take a quiz on both Group A and Group B words to test your retention.
  • Repeat the quiz on days four, seven, and ten after the initial study session.
  • Record the scores for each quiz.
  • Analyze the data to determine if spaced repetition has a significant impact on vocabulary word retention.
Adjust the schedule: Adjust the review intervals based on your performance. If you consistently get a flash card right, you can increase the interval before reviewing it again. If you get a card wrong, you can decrease the interval or move it back to an earlier stage in the review process.
Monitor progress: Keep track of your progress over time. Note which flash cards are giving you the most trouble and which ones you have mastered. This will help you adjust the review intervals and prioritize the material to focus on.
Based on the results of the experiment, it can be concluded that spaced repetition is an effective method for improving vocabulary retention. This simple experiment can be expanded upon increasing the number of vocabulary words, or using different types of learning material.

Post-Exercise Reflection

After the exercise, write down your experience and learning from the engagement exercise. Ask yourself the following questions to gauge if you have understood the key essence of the spaced repetition technique:
  • How did the spaced repetition exercise help you retain and recall information?
  • Did you notice any patterns or strategies that were helpful in retaining information?
  • How can you apply the spaced repetition technique to your future studies?

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