AI in Education — Spaced Interval Learning
Part three in our series of AI applications in the educational sector. This post covers one of the pioneering experiments using technology to improve the quality of learning and enhancing student recollection. Spaced interval learning has been proved to work on several occasions, yet there are virtually no schools implementing this technique.
Today there are of course all sort of technology that remembers information for you and makes it possible to instantly look up facts. However, learning and remembering the basis of how things works are still key in applying knowledge on other areas and should be the main task of educational institutes to teach.
It has been known for long that learnings stick in memory better if repeated from time to time. Still, most schools practice the same old methods of teaching. One chapter at a time with little or no repetition of earlier learnings. Recently there have been a number of software applications claiming to have found some sort of secret recipe towards learning. Allegedly these apps will make you into a kind of super genius that remembers everything effortlessly. Can this really work, and what are they based on?
As early as 1885 there were studies examining how time affects our memory. The german pshychology-scientist Hermann Ebbinghaus was the first to publish a paper which contained a curve of how fast we tend to forget information. Ebbinghaus’s studies showed that that memory loss is actually exponential over time. Four hours after initially remembering a set of facts, there is approximately only a fifth left of the information.
But Ebbinghaus didn’t stop with determining memory loss. He also made astounding discoveries on how to promote effective learning. Just as the forgetting curve is negatively exponential, the learning curve of the average human is positively exponential by experience according to Ebbinghaus’s experiments. The way to finding this out was almost as fascinating as the findings themselves. Ebbinghaus proved his theory by studying random nonsense words for hours daily. At his peak, he was able to recite about 2.5 words per second, and 3 years later he retook all experiments to prove his point. He had just discovered the spacing effect.
By repeating the words in set intervals Ebbinghaus found that they stuck in his mind much more effectively. The first repetition gives the strongest effects and the highest amounts of new information are absorbed. Effects decrease with every new repetition until all is correctly remembered. The trick is just to find just the right individual interval to get the most out of repeating. Too soon is meaningless and too late means you have to learn it from scratch all over again.
The scientific world was baffled by Ebbinghaus and his seemingly groundbreaking studies on the human psyche. Previous to his discoveries there were very few studies examining memory connections, compared to after his findings had been published. One of the most studied areas of memory research, to this day, is, in fact Ebbinghaus’s repetition intervals and how varying length can impact learning.
Polish inventor Piotr Wozniak has devoted a large part of his life towards investigating in what intervals the human brain are preprogrammed to soak up learnings most effectively. Together with modern day technology he is now able to realize results from years of research into something usable for the average man. His app SuperMemo is available on most platforms and has been constructed around algorithms that automatically keeps track on what you learn and when you learned it. Over time the software tells you when it is time to refresh your memory and utilizes machine learning algorithms to adapt to your unique learning curve.
When Wozniak were studying at the Poznan University of Technology in Poland, he realized that everything he learned were likely to be gone within just a few weeks. Frustrated he began to calculate how much time he needed just to keep up a modest vocabulary in English. The answer shocked him. It would take up to two hours a day of just practicing English. Wozniak thought that there must be a more effective way and eventually stumbled upon Ebbinghaus’s studies and began examining them. The birth of SuperMemo was a fact.
But how come these theories aren’t more keenly implemented in schools around the world? This question have been debated for decades but still haven’t found its way to the classroom. In 1988 an article under the name The Spacing Effect: A Case Study in the Failure to Apply the Results of Psychological Research were published in the American Psychologist magazine debating how changes should be implemented to benefit long term learning. Still, there have been no change and students are still stuck with outdated and ineffective methods.
The answer to why the spacing effect isn’t used in schools is still somewhat of a mystery. It has been proven over and over in academic studies that spaced interval learning is beneficial in a variety of subjects from mathematics to language learning. The very limited repetition executed in schools today is in most cases utilized with little or no respect to spacing effect theories. Most times, teachers simply assume when material and learnings should be repeated.
Many claims that the current school system is way to concerned with pushing students trough programs as fast as possible rather than providing them with a long-lasting knowledge base to stand on.
Isn’t time to let more technological tools that are actually built on scientifically proven findings into our education system?
Isn’t time to make schools effective in more ways than to teach students how to cram loads of information into their brains the day before a big test?
About the author: Hubert.ai is a young edtech company based in Stockholm, Sweden. We are working to disrupt teacher feedback by using AI conversational dialog with every student separetly. Feedback is then analyzed and compiled down to a few recommendations on how you as a teacher can improve your skills and methods. Are you a teacher and would like to help us in development? Please sign up as a beta tester at our website :]
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