Spaced learning – regular periods of learning spaced out by rest periods such as piano lessons every few days for a year. Also known as disturbed learning.
Spaced learning (also known as disturbed practice) refers to the theory that practising at regular intervals is more effective that practising all at once.i For example, practising to ride a bike for ten minutes per day over 10 days (100 minutes) is more effective that practising for 100 minutes non-stop.
Similarly, consider a person learning to surf. They will be more knowledgeable and competent from surfing for 2 hours per week for 10 weeks (20 hours), rather than surfing for 20 hours over a single weekend. There are several reasons for why this is the case:
For teachers, the most important take-out is that learning spaced out over time is an effective teaching strategy. Teachers can take advantage of spaced learning by planning multiple revision points throughout a program. For example, students in a science class should briefly revisit previous topics on a regular basis, particularly in the lead-up to exams. Similarly, teachers concerned with reading and writing can revisit high- incidence words (common words) on a weekly basis. By using spaced learning, teachers ensure that previous learning is not forgotten and that it is committed to long-term memory. With each practise, the brain’s synapses multiply, strengthen and reorganise.
Teachers can take advantage of spaced learning by planning multiple revision points throughout a program.
Massed practice – the opposite of spaced learning. It involves repetitive and uninterrupted practise of a skill-based activity over many hours.
Massed practice is the opposite of spaced learning. With spaced learning, students practise an activity at regular intervals over a long period of time. However, with massed practice, students practise an activity numerous times with practically no breaks. Cramming is an example of massed practice. While not as effective as spaced learning, massed practice does have some advantages:
Hint: massed practice can be used initially to achieve a certain level of skill. It can then be followed by spaced learning to encourage long-term, continual improvement and retention.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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