We Can Leverage the Science of Learning to Improve Instruction. Here’s How.

Learning Science 101 Part 2: Spaced Practice

McGraw-Hill
Aug 7, 2019 · 3 min read

Learning Science is the study of how learning happens. Drawing from a variety of disciplines, such as cognitive science and computer science, learning science helps us understand the conditions in which students are most likely to thrive.

While learning science is incredibly important for education technology developers and content providers like us to ensure that learning tools are properly optimized, learning science can also be useful for teachers. Learning science can help classroom teachers identify and employ teaching strategies that make the most of every learning moment by challenging students in ways that are compatible with cognitive functions. To put it another way, learning science makes the brain work smarter, not harder.

To help educators understand and use teaching theories or practices that are informed by learning science, we’ve created a series called Learning Science 101. Each animation explains a specific instructional strategy or learning theory that has been derived from the science of learning. In our first installment, we explored information processing and schemas through the Cognitive Load Theory. Now, we’re taking a look at memory and studying with Spaced Practice. Watch the full animation here:

Here’s the big idea behind spaced practice: we can help students retain newly learned information for longer periods of time by strategically scheduling practice sessions according to cognitive science.

In the nineteenth century, Dr. Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a series of experiments that have now been replicated, which revealed that although we retain one hundred percent of the information we learn at the moment we learn it, our ability to recall that information drops quickly, then levels off over time. This phenomenon is sometimes called the “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve,” and plays a key role in how we understand spaced practice.

With spaced practice, educators use what Ebbinghaus learned about memory to strategically plan review sessions just when the brain needs it most. It works like this: when we schedule practice sessions at increasingly spaced intervals in time, we “catch” the rate of forgetting just when it starts to dip. The review sessions are used to spark student memory when it begins to decay, and helps students retain information longer.

Spaced practice, in addition to many other theories driven by learning science, can help educators make the most of every learning moment.

For more on spaced practice, check out:

For more on learning science, see:

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

McGraw-Hill

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We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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