One of the greatest issues of today’s education is its short-term focus on academic results and the lack of importance attributed to long-term learning and understanding. The consequence in terms of learning strategies is the overwhelming practice of cramming among students of all ages, despite the long-standing proof that spreading learning across numerous shorter sessions is far more effective for the creation of durable memories than fewer longer studying sessions. The principle of spaced practice is therefore one of the most important for long-term learning. Applicable to anyone, and regardless of subject, it is a valuable method for memorising basic facts and learning complex skills.
To apply spaced practice, teachers must first identify the most important concepts and skills contained in their curriculum in order to attribute a degree of priority to what is to be learned. The essence of the method is the sequencing of those concepts and skills in one’s class schedule. Instead of teaching a concept or skill intensively over days or weeks as one unit, it is better to spread the learning of the most important concepts over months, returning to them periodically to build and reinforce them.
Organising one’s curriculum this way offers further spacing possibilities, like interleaving, which involves spending time learning one topic, moving on to a second one, returning to the first topic, while starting to learn a third one, without fully learning any one of those subjects to completion. It may sound counterintuitive, but it is very effective, especially for those who can plan well.
Stronger Together: Combining Interleaving With Retrieval Practice
Interleaving is not only interesting for curriculum design, but for instruction during class as well. Frequently asking students to try to recall past learning is vital, especially for those prioritised concepts. Consequently, combining interleaving with retrieval practice __ is one of the most effective ways to improve student learning.
Other ways of integrating interleaving in curriculum design include homework problems that require students to reflect on previous learning (again, most powerful when coupled with retrieval practice) and designing tests and exams that include current as well as past material. For the latter, clarifying the most important skills and concepts that will be included from past tests can help further reinforce the prioritised skills and knowledge.
Students should be taught about spaced practice and interleaving, specifically because in the short term, cramming a single topic can fool them into thinking they have mastered it, while they should be aiming for profound and durable knowledge instead.
Content drawn from “_The Science of Learning — What Every Teacher Should Know_”, EdX: https://www.edx.org