The term spaced repetition is popping up frequently in workplace learning these days. So what is spaced repetition in the context of staff learning? Spaced repetition is a learning technique that is being used by a number of companies to significantly improve the retention of information by staff. It evades our brains’ ‘use it or lose it’ policy by implementing repeated and varied learning into employee training plans.
When we pack too much new information into our brains at one time, for some reason, knowledge slips out like sugar through a sieve. Why does this happen and how does spaced repetition help, you ask? Spaced repetition diminishes the effects of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve (fig.1), which represents the average learners ability to retain information over time. The technique cements the idea of needing to revisit pieces of information initially stored in your short-term memory to ensure that they are committed to your long-term memory, so you are able to recall them again at later times. The curve represents memory retention as a function of time, as the brain needs time to form the structures that are required to retain the new information before it is filed away into long-term accessible memory.
Fig. 1. Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve
From the curve, it can be seen that the most crucial time for review is within the first 24 hours from when the information was initially taken in, allowing you to retain approximately 80 per cent of knowledge. Review again after 48 hours allows you to retain 85 per cent of the information, and if the learning is reviewed once again 3 days after our initial learning, almost all information will have been retained, with a higher percentage ingrained in our long-term memory.
After information is retained in the long-term banks of our brains, the brain separates this information into large chunks which can then be connected when memory is regathered, to create a more detailed recount of the bigger picture.
If you’re now wondering how to use spaced repetition, the answer is through microlearning content. This is because microlearning content provides bite-sized learning modules to assist in retention due to them being digestible and resemble games when in the form of quizzes, known as gamification.
Spaced repetition with microlearning
Spaced repetition through microlearning is essential for maximum memory acquisition. For instance, if a hypothetical concept is being taught to your employees, which approach would be more effective, keeping in mind the importance of spaced repetition? Choose from one of the following options:
a) A concept is taught to employees twice a day for 5 days.
b) A concept is taught to employees once a day for 10 days.
Yes, it’s B! If you said A, let’s pretend you didn’t. The recall system over 10 days has been proven to be more effective in the retention and consolidation of new knowledge, rather than a more concentrated 5 days.
Implementing spaced repetition for staff training will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on your company, in terms of learning and development success.