Spaced repetition is a learning technique that helps to shift knowledge from your short to long term memory. It’s critical for effective learning.
Your brain is wired to forget. By tomorrow, you’re at risk of forgetting 80% of what you learned today! But spaced repetition can help you remember almost everything. Here’s everything you need to know about spaced repetition and how to implement it in your learning programmes.
Spaced repetition is a learning technique to strengthen your memory for information by reviewing the material multiple times across increasing intervals of time. Spaced repetition produces stronger memories than repetitions massed closer together.
Alternative names include spaced rehearsal, expanding rehearsal, graduated intervals, repetition spacing, repetition scheduling, spaced retrieval and expanded retrieval 
The aim of workplace learning is to help people do something. This could be to improve their performance, change their behaviour or adopt a new skill.
Most learning and training programmes are well intentioned but tend to get stuck on knowledge sharing. But to build knowledge and skills that stick, learners need more.
Spaced repetition helps to shift knowledge from short term, to long term memory. Add spaced practice to that and you end up with knowledge and skills that stick. And that is what we need to aim for!
Spaced repetition is one of the best researched, most important ingredients for effective learning transfer. Yet it’s often missing from learning and training programmes.
Each time you remember something, memories are effectively created afresh in your brain. Every ‘rehearsal’ of a memory embeds it deeper until it sticks for the long term. That’s because you’re building stronger neural connections every time you recall something.
Until it’s stuck in your long-term memory, learning can easily be disrupted by other information or experiences.
Back in 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus found that spacing learning over a longer period was more effective than cramming information into a short burst. We’ve known about this for a long time!
Building spaced repetition into learning will help you move knowledge from short to long-term memory – and beat what Ebbinghaus called ‘the forgetting curve’.
For spaced repetition to be most effective, it’s best to actively recall information rather than just repeat your exposure to it.
The graph below shows how much more information is retained if you recall it in spaced intervals.
As you move through your learning journey, you’re asked questions about the key information you’re learning. These are known as spaced repetition questions (SRQs).
In our learning transfer platform, we use five stages of SRQs. You start at stage one - if you answer correctly, you’ll move to stage two and so on - until you reach stage five.
If you answer incorrectly at any point, you’ll be shown the answer to refresh your memory, and move back a stage.
This all happens over time to build neural pathways in your brain, so you can be confident that the knowledge sticks in your long-term memory.
Effective spaced repetition starts 24 hours after you encounter the initial information (after your brain begins to consolidate your memories whilst you sleep).
Our Train Smarter programme has 6 modules, each a week apart. We use this spacing schedule where we aim for 5 correct spaced repetitions:
24 hours, 2 days, 4 days, 8 days, 16 days.
Overall, people answer questions in short bursts for about 8-10 weeks making it hard to forget what they learned.
If you want your training and learning programmes to result in people changing behaviour and building new skills – spaced repetition is an essential ingredient. Serving up content isn’t enough. You need to support employees to embed that knowledge – and actively use it through spaced repetition and spaced practice.
A step in the right direction, with a basic, low-cost approach to spaced repetition could be to set up a series of emails or Slack messages to send out to participants at spaced intervals.
The benefits of this type of approach is that it’s quick and cheap with the tools you have. However, the drawback is that it quickly becomes very complex to manage personalised spaced repetition schedules especially if people need to move back a step.
The larger the scale of training, the more complex and unmanageable this becomes.
If you’re working at scale and want to embed spaced repetition into learning programmes, then technology is your friend.
Here’s what to look for in software for spaced repetition:
Check out the Stellar Labs platform, which handles spaced repetition for you.
Just because you’ve read this blog about spaced repetition, you haven’t really learnt it. To embed this knowledge into your long-term memory, try some spaced repetition of your own. This could be as simple as setting some reminders in your phone to recall some of the key information we shared here.
Even better, put it into practice in your learning programmes to build your skills as learning professional!
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Practical advice for L&D on how to align with the C-Suite's goals for learning, and how to talk to them about skills transfer. All from the latest episode of Mind the Skills Gap!
Learning transfer is all about getting people to apply new knowledge or skills into the workplace. We look at what it is, and how to measure and improve it.
In this episode of Mind the Skills Gap, I'm joined by Georgie Cooke, to discus practical insights to help you design digital learning to build skills.