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Spaced Learning and Repetition: How They Work and Why


Interested in spaced learning and distributed practice? Then download our free Primer on Spaced Repetition and Feedback Loops. You’ll learn everything you need to know about these concepts so you can incorporate them in your own training.


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Spaced learning and repetition are the keys to how we learn. Here at Bottom-Line Performance, we are using these techniques in our Knowledge Guru game engine to enable rapid retention of facts and information.

While spaced learning and repetition are just starting to show up in corporate learning, the ideas are anything but new. In 2005, Scientific American published detailed research on how our brain forms long term memories. Since then, scientists and educators have worked to perfect these techniques.

What is spaced learning and repetition?

Spaced learning is a training technique that involves short training or learning sessions with breaks between the sessions.

In some organizations, the archaic belief still prevails that the longer a learning session is, the more learning will happen. College students often think they can get the grades the want by “cramming” for hours the night before a test. This simply isn’t the case.

Rather than focusing on long periods of learning, we learn better when our brain cells are switched on and off, or with short periods of learning and breaks in between. The key to long-term memory formation is not the amount of time spent learning, but the amount of time between learning.

By switching your learner’s brain cells “on” (during learning) and “off” again (during breaks), the learner’s unconscious has time to internalize the knowledge. Then the repetition of this process is what solidifies the information in long-term memory. Research has also shown that longer breaks between teaching sessions can result in longer-lasting memories.

Let research guide your learning design

Learning designers and training departments are often restricted by a limited budget. Even when the trainer knows a particular method is not effective, there is little they can do about it without the necessary time and resources.

We frequently allow instructor-led training and “click next to continue” eLearning to linger because our organization won’t dedicate the time and resources to fix the training. Or, worse, they don’t even realize a problem exists.

Even when budgets are tight, we believe in letting research guide your learning design. All too often we build training around what we feel is effective. Sometimes, we don’t think about it at all, and we simply build it the same way we built the last training solution.

So take the time to really understand how learning happens. At BLP we put instructional design at the heart of everything we do, because when training is effective… well, the results speak for themselves.

An example of spaced learning in action

Now I’d like to use Knowledge Guru to show you a real-world example of spaced learning.

Knowledge Guru incorporates spaced learning and repetition throughout the entire game. Every “topic” within a game is a new mountain, and learners must climb all three paths up the mountain to deliver scrolls to the Guru and achieve Topic Mastery. With 5 – 12 questions a path, each one take several minutes to ascend.

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Each topic usually has 3 or 4 learning objectives, and we will create an average of 5 – 12 unique questions per topic. Then, we break each question in to 3 different iterations and put one iteration on each mountain path. Wow, that’s a mouthful.

The design is intentional. Learners are exposed to the same content, say 5 – 12 basic facts you want to teach, presented three different ways… with about a 10 minute “break” in between each exposure. The spacing and repetition of the information allows for rapid learning and retention.

The final section of each game, known as the Guru Grab Bag, provides an opportunity to go over information from the previous sections, as well as learn new information. We recommend players play the Grab Bag section of the game several days, or even weeks, after completing the game. Expanding the length of the ‘break” between the game and the Grab Bag section will result in longer-term information storage.