Do you have a large amount of information you'd like to teach quickly and effectively? While most trainers would agree that it's not a good idea to teach lots of information over a short amount of time, one learning method suggests the opposite.
In an article first reported in Scientific American in 2005, R. Douglas Fields explored how temporal patterns of stimuli create long-term memories. These timed patterns formed the basis for a 2008 book by Paul Kelley called Making Minds, in which Kelley used the information reported by Fields to develop and test what he called the Spaced Learning method. The general idea of Spaced Learning is that large amounts of content are condensed and then repeated to students in brief sessions, separated by 10-minute breaks. During this time, learners perform unrelated motor activities.
In a previous article I wrote about Knowledge Guru and the use of repetition in eLearning. The article explored if the simple act of repetition is the key to learning. One of the comments I received about that article (from someone at Knowledge Guru, in fact) said that repetition is only part of the picture. Repetition in conjunction with spaced chunking of the content is more likely the key.
Here's how Spaced Learning works:
- Present all the information you want your students to walk away with together in one big chunk. Try to do this in about 10 or 15 minutes. This learning theory doesn't give specifics on how long is too long or short; however, 15 minutes or less has been shown to work in live classroom settings. (In an eLearning setting you might do even shorter lessons.) The information could be presented live on PowerPoint slides or on a large board by a classroom or online instructor. In an asynchronous situation, the information could be presented using any of today's eLearning tools such as Captivate, Camtasia or Storyline.
- After all of the information has been presented, take a 10-minute break. But not just any break. Use this 10-minute break to have your students do something completely unrelated to the core topic. Juggle. Make something with play-doh. Draw. Do anything to stimulate a different part of the brain.
- Following the 10-minute break, return to the lesson. Start from the beginning, but present the information in a slightly different manner. For example, show the same slides, but with essential points and keywords left blank. Encourage your students to fill in these blanks. Work in a group and out loud if applicable. Don't hold back on giving hints or clues if your learner gets stuck. This session will probably go even faster than the original session.
- Then take another 10-minute break to do something else unrelated. Make something else with play-doh. Dribble a basketball. You get the idea.
- After completing the second 10-minute break, give your students an unassisted quiz (or similar assessment) in which they are able to apply the facts and information.
According to the Spaced Learning theory, information moves into long-term memory easier if the human brain gets a short break. The repetition of the same neural pathway sends the message to the brain that this information is important, which makes information retrieval easier.
The Space Learning method is being used and developed at Monkseaton High School in England (where Paul Kelley is Head teacher), and appears to be working out pretty well. Their curriculum consists of presentations developed by teachers using Spaced Learning as part of Innovation Unit's Learning Futures program. Learning Futures provides free open-source tools and guides to help schools implement the Spaced Learning method.
What's your take on Spaced Learning? Are you using Spaced Learning in your training initiatives? Is it having a positive effect on student retention? Is it just a learning fad? Please feel free to post your comments.