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Making the Most of Professional Training: Spaced Learning

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Posted August 25, 2023

If you’re an organization that wants to maximize learning outcomes, look no further than spaced learning, also known as spaced practice, spaced training, and spaced repetition.

Spaced learning is an approach to training and skills development that involves repetition of learning material, spread out over time. It’s an approach based on the “spacing effect,” the idea that learning is more effective when study sessions are spaced out rather than crammed into one short (“massed”) period.

Cognitively, there’s more to spaced learning than just reiterating the same material after pauses. “Spaced repetition doesn’t just mean [students are] re-reading or re-hearing info,” says Sean Kang, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Melbourne. “It can also involve retrieving information through memory again and again over time and applying what they’ve learned.”

By exposing students to material repeatedly, spaced learning continuously reinforces information and prevents the knowledge decay that naturally happens over time. As neuroscientists Paul Kelley and Terry Whatson write in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, spaced learning makes it possible to make “long-term memories in minutes.”

Indeed, spaced learning can make a potentially huge difference in learning retention, especially over time. In one study, researchers wanted to see the difference in long-term retention in adults learning to pair names and faces. Retention of the information between spaced and massed teaching methods was similar after 24 hours, but retention with spaced learning was more than double that of the massed learners one month later. “Participants, irrespective of their age, who were spaced-trained performed significantly better than their massed-trained peers,” concluded the researchers.

A graph of a graph showing the difference between a learning and a learning

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Why Should Professionals Choose Training Options that Leverage Spaced Learning?

In workplace environments, spaced learning translates into greater cost-effectiveness. “Spaced practice is a feasible and cost-effective way to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of learning, and has tremendous potential to improve educational outcomes,” writes Kang in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Spaced learning enables:

  • Long-term Retention: The approach ensures that the information is not merely memorized but understood and retained over an extended period.
  • Efficient Use of Time: Spaced learning reduces the need for relearning, saving time, and resources that can be used elsewhere.
  • Enhanced Performance: The effective retention of skills and knowledge leads to better professional performance and growth.

Admittedly, the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of spaced learning may seem counterintuitive. After all, wouldn’t it be better (and less time-consuming) to learn everything in one sitting, instead of forcing employees to revisit the material over and over again? To answer this question, we need to look at a few dimensions of learning.

  • How well do they master the material? The previous chart provides an example of what we mean. There isn’t much difference in recall after one day, but spaced learning produces significantly better recall after a month. If you’re going to train your team, it’s better to use a methodology that maximizes long-term retention. Spaced learning thus produces greater value for the time and money spent on the training.
  • How long does it take to master the material altogetherIt might seem like it would be more time-efficient to learn everything in one sitting, but spaced learning will produce better outcomes in the same or less total amount of time. For example, if it takes eight hours in a single day to teach a certain concept, a spaced learning approach might require only two hours at a time, four different times. It’s also possible you might not need four repetitions and that participants will master the material after only six hours.
  • How much time do repeat learning experiences require? Subsequent repetitions may not require as much time as the original learning experience. For example, your team might spend an afternoon in the initial training, and then spend only twenty minutes here and there after the fact. That makes the learning paradigm much more flexible because team members can fit it more easily into their own schedules.

Ultimately, spaced learning, with its scientific backing and practical applications, is an indisputably superior way to enhance long-term retention of new concepts and skills. For that reason, virtually every training paradigm incorporates it to some extent.

In corporate environments, spaced learning has been used for leadership development, technical training, and more, with promising results in terms of long-term retention and skill application. By choosing training programs and methodologies that incorporate spaced repetition, professionals and organizations can ensure that learning is not just a short-term endeavor but a sustained process that leads to real growth and enhancement of skills. It isn’t just a teaching technique; it’s an investment in your workforce and future.

Not all professional training, especially in writing courses, is equal. Smart utilization of techniques like spaced learning can make meaningful differences in student outcomes. To learn more about how Hurley Write approaches its training – and how it customizes its approach for every client – contact us for more information.

Making the Most of Professional Training: Spaced Learning

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(503 Reviews)