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spaced learning

Spaced learning will be one of the key eLearning techniques to look out for in 2017. At least, that’s according to John Curran, expert in Instructional Design and chair of the eLearning Network.

I know what you’re thinking. Spaced learning is old news. It dates back to 1885 when Ebbinghaus theorized the Forgetting Curve—the concept that we forget things over time unless we revisit them.

forgetting curve

Now we’re seeing a shift towards Brain Friendly teaching, which involves using cognitive research to better understand how our brains work, in order to teach more effectively. Thus, the age-old but uber-effective spaced learning technique is making a comeback.

The upshot of this? It’s about time you implement spaced learning into your eLearning strategy.

In a nutshell, spaced learning (or distributed practice) involves splitting up learning into lots of short sessions, rather than a few long ones. Key to this technique is the repetition of concepts. This improves long-term learning and memory as it prevents students from forgetting lessons over time.

Here’s how to execute spaced learning effectively:

  1. Keep classes short

Keep your video classes under three minutes. Cover three to five concepts per lesson. This is the optimal amount of information we can take in at one time.

If you have a lot of information to cover, don’t panic. This is the very essence of spaced practice. All you need to do is split up your long lesson into a series of micro-lessons.

  1. Take a break

Leave time in between each lesson you upload. This helps prevent cognitive overload and will allow your learners to process the information they’ve just received.

The more you repeat the concept, the longer you should make the intervals between sessions. Ebbinghaus’s research showed that you should make the first few repetitions within days. Then as time goes on and retention grows stronger, you should leave it for weeks, or months, depending on how long your online course lasts.

Thalheimer’s research into spaced learning found that wider spacings can improve memory as they require extra cognitive effort and create varied memory traces.

Of course when teaching online, you don’t have complete control over when your learners consume your classes. You can prevent them from chain-watching your classes by uploading them days or weeks apart. You can also restrict your eLearning content so your learners only access it after a certain time or date with video scheduling.

  1. Repeat, repeat, repeat

“Designers using the spaced approach need to settle on several different ways to present the same point.”
Association For Talent Development

If you keep repeating the same concepts in the same way, your eLearning course will feel like a broken record. Your learners could lose interest and drop out.

But you need to repeat your concepts at least two or three times to implement the spacing effect successfully. approach each concept from a variety of angles and present them in multiple modes and formats. Give analogies for your concepts. Provide auditory and visual aids. Tell a story and appeal to your learners’ emotions. The more ways in which you present the information, the more likely you’ll find a way to resonate with them.

Teaching is all about finding the right angle or, as the 90s movie, Road Trip, so wisely puts it: “[You] can teach Japanese to a monkey in 46 hours. The key is just finding a way to relate to the material.”

  1. Throw in a quiz

You can strengthen your learners’ retention further by encouraging active learning. Instead of leaving students to just read or watch your class, throw in a quick quiz. This will encourage them to engage with your content and turn them from passive to  active learners. This speeds up the transition of information from the short term to the long term memory.

Money Advice Scotland provide free eLearning games for their clients to teach people how to spend and save their money wisely. This makes the chore of learning finance fun.

It’s an easy way to repeat the info you’ve taught them and check up on their progress at the same time.

  1. Build on pre-existing knowledge

The stronger a learner’s retention rate, the longer it takes them to forget information.

Strengthen retention by building on your students’ prior knowledge or associating your lesson with something that’s familiar to them. One way to do this is to build on the concepts you’ve taught your learners in previous classes. This gives you another chance to repeat your spaced concepts and allows you to build on prior knowledge at the same time.

“Our short term working memory can’t cope with new stuff if it can’t relate it to stuff we already know.”
John Curran

If this is your first class or you’re teaching a concept that doesn’t compare to previous lessons, you can relate it to something your learners are familiar with, like a well-known story, place or song.

Failing that, make up a story or anecdote of your own. Cognitive Neuroscientist, Michael Gazzaniga, discovered that our brains automatically look for narrative coherence, so we learn more effectively when information is presented in a story.

Following the five tips above, you can improve your learners’ retention, engagement and memory of your eLearning classes. But spaced learning isn’t the only trend to watch out for in 2017. Start the new year strong and download your free Ultimate eLearning Action Plan For 2017.

gravatar-fionnualaFionnuala is an eLearning enthusiast and writes fun things for vzaar, the video hosting platform. When she’s not at work, you can find her with her head buried in a book and chain-drinking tea.

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