rote memorization

How to boost rote memorization with spaced repetition

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 memorization?

Rote memorization 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.

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 memorization

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.

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, for free by signing up here or in the box below.

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

What is the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve?

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