rote learning with spaced repetition

Rote Learning

Rote memorization is one of the oldest and most effective learning methodologies of all. However, it’s also one of the least appealing and is regularly inflicted on an unwilling audience in a passive, transmissive, classroom environment. Fortunately, over the past several Millennia and in particular over the past decade, technology has progressed to the point where the practice now resembles an enticing form of training that is actually fun to do.

What is rote learning?

Rote learning is the practice of learning through constant repetition. It’s the educational equivalent of force feeding a learner’s brain in order to embed knowledge. It’s also known as learning parrot-fashion. When the same information is repeated constantly, eventually it passes into long-term memory. Different learners are more adept at rote memorization than others which means that those who are less able to retain knowledge must suffer through many extra revisions. This unpleasant process is countered through the use of spaced repetition.

Why is rote learning difficult?

Rote learning is becoming an increasing problem as the amount of data that needs to be memorized is growing rapidly. In the past, this way of learning functioned well because the knowledge that needed to be acquired was limited. Today, we are overflowed with information.

Additionally, once rote learners learn the lesson, they forget it after a few days and can’t interconnect the information. Because of this, they need to repeat the information regularly, which demands a great deal of time.

Next, the brain works associatively, and we learn reproductively. People can memorize by repetition, but this is the lowest level of learning and is not knowledge they can use later. The highest level is usable knowledge when linking information.

Another disadvantage of this learning strategy is that new information is mostly kept unrelated to previous knowledge. Therefore, so given the incoherence, information is harder to organize.

Lastly, motivation for such learning is weak and comes from outside in the form of rewards, punishments, praise, and evaluation.

Why is rote learning important?

Memorization is particularly important when knowledge needs to be drawn upon in various different real-world situations, whether they are in the workplace or in one’s personal life. Memorization can be more difficult for some, meaning that an appropriate technique must be established for optimal memorization.

Rote learning techniques

Read aloud. Read the text with comprehension. Even better do it in front of a mirror. Read slowly, loudly, set semantic accents expressively: lower your voice to calm moments, choose emotional intonation. Rhyme itself contributes to memory, but reading aloud helps to catch the rhythm. This method is especially helpful for auditory learners – those who notice and remember information better by ear.

Write on paper. Read the text a few times and try to write down what you remember. This way you will immediately notice where you are having difficulties and what you need to read again. In addition, hand operation connects the motoric memory.

Sing. Singing helps to memorize songs. So, try putting the text into a tune you like. Or be creative and compose a melody on your own.

Use associations. Messy information gets out of the head quickly. The association method helps to fix this. The essence of the method is to create a combination of new information and what is already well known.

Visualize. Our brain remembers images better, what can be seen and touched, and then presented. For that reason, we remember people’s faces better than their names. First, come up with great visuals for each line. In that case, the picture will be individualized and emerge in your head effortlessly.

What is the fastest way to memorize formulas?

Memorizing formulas can be made easy with spaced repetition training as learners are able to drill themselves on important formulas in strategic intervals.

What are the disadvantages of rote learning?

Rote learning can be;

  • repetitive
  • easy to lose focus
  • lacks a social aspect
  • no connection between new and old knowledge
  • does not contribute to a long-term understanding of the information.

disadvantages of rote learning

Is there better ways to learn other than rote learning?

Microlearning is the break down of information into topical, bite-sized chunks. By interacting with these highly-targeted learning bursts, lessons become much easier to digest and the likelihood of knowledge retention is increased. Microlearning courses are easier to develop, update and distribute compared to traditional eLearning courses and completion rates are dramatically higher. Furthermore, the compact nature of microlessons means microlearning is a great enabler of other techniques such as Peer Learning, Spaced Repetition and Just-in-Time training.

Is rote memorization effective learning?

Rote memorization is effective, however only to an extent. Although it can be useful for learning some types of content, microlearning is a significantly more successful learning strategy.

What is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition (also known as distributed practice) takes rote memorization to the next level. It has roots in Hermann Ebbinghaus’ 1885 publication, “Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology” which describes the Forgetting Curve. This demonstrated how quickly knowledge was forgotten over time without revision. However, it also demonstrates how revision at increasing intervals helps to embed knowledge. The most effective intervals that defined the optimum spaced repetition schedule would later be described by P.A. Wozniak who developed an algorithm called SuperMemo-2 (or SM-2). It would transform rote memorization.

forgetting curve rote memorization
Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve which is defeated through clever Rote Memorization. Source: Gwern

Enter Microlearning

A major limitation of rote memorization and spaced repetition is that content has to be small to be practical for repeated revision. The human short-term memory can only hold up to five pieces of new information before it gets overwritten or pushed out. By sticking to short, bite-sized chunks of highly-targeted, topical information, there’s a dramatically better likelihood that knowledge will become embedded. This process is called, “microlearning.”

Technology’s influence on rote memorization

In recent years, microlearning has been greatly enabled through the growth in smartphone ownership. Nowadays, most learners in the developed world will own one and carry it with them constantly. Accessing microlessons on a phone is called mobile learning. Using phones to deliver and access educational content in this way is naturally highly effective as learners can access it in their own time – wherever they are – using apps. The technology then enhances rote memorization by focusing only upon the content that a learner is struggling with – i.e. it remembers which answers a learner got right – in addition to automatically working out the schedule required to perform the revision.

The evolution of rote learning

Blindly parroting information until it’s embedded should be a relic of the past – especially in a group learning environment where everybody learns at a different pace. Mobile-based microlearning, in conjunction with spaced repetition, tailors learning and rote memorization-based content to an individual’s own pace which makes it much more effective.

Memorization Apps - EdApp


Spaced Repetition for company and retail training

If you’d like to use these enhanced rote memorization techniques to train your workforce in practices, policies, procedures or products, get in touch with EdApp at You can also try EdApp’s spaced repetition implementation, Brain Boost spaced repetition app, for free by signing up here.

Spaced Repetition App – 3 things to look for
The Best Spaced Repetition Schedule

What is the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve?