Issue 43: Using Distributed Practice to Improve Learning 🏊
Happy Friday! This week, we’re highlighting two questions:
- How can you use sound instructional practices in workplace learning?
- How can distributed practice enhance learning outcomes?
Let's dive in!
Enhance Learning with Distributed Practice
When you’re in a learning program (whether formal or non-formal), do you study for an exam over a period of time or just cram the night before? Your answer could significantly affect your chances of passing that exam as well as your retention of that information down the road. And, if you’re in the L&D field (which I’m guessing you are, because you’re reading this newsletter), you’re probably in a position where you could influence your learners one way or another. So, what should you do?
Studies conducted in labs have consistently shown that distributed practice -- or studying in multiple sessions over a period of time -- is more effective for exam prep. Some studies, like the one conducted by Ebersbach & Barzagar Nazari (2020), suggest that the effects obtained in the lab can be generalized to authentic educational contexts (like workplace learning or customer education). In this week’s first featured study, researchers investigated the effect of distributed versus crammed practice before a course deadline on learners’ retention and transfer of knowledge. Their findings indicated that “distributed practice following knowledge acquisition is a powerful learning tool for fostering long-term retention and transfer with adults in authentic educational contexts” (ibid).
So, if you’re designing or delivering a program where learners are expected to pass an exam and remember that information later, encourage a spaced or distributed practice schedule. Build it into your learning program! The researchers recommend that “multiple tests across the period of the whole course can increase the realization of repeated, distributed practice phases of students in the context of their self-regulated learning” (ibid), which can reduce something called, amazingly, the “procrastination scallop” (Michael, 1991).
Key Takeaway: “Distributed practice can be recommended to learners striving to boost their knowledge in the long run” (Ebersbach & Barzagar Nazari, 2020).
Read More ($): Ebersbach, M. & Barzagar Nazari, K. (2020). Implementing Distributed Practice in Statistics Courses: Benefits for Retention and Transfer. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 9(4), 532-541.
Instruction & Workplace Learning
I said in last week’s issue that I don’t usually include meta-analyses or review articles in LSW and I’m going to break that rule again (with good reason, I promise). A recent journal article that reviews effective instructional practices in workplace learning popped up and I wanted to share it with you. In this piece, Kraiger & Ford (2021) detail empirically supported instructional principles to enhance workplace training effectiveness. They also squash practices that customize instruction to the learners’ ages (which was a terrible idea) and learning styles (which was also a terrible idea). Check out page 8 of the PDF from ResearchGate for a table that summarizes those instructional principles and provides evidence through key findings.
Key Takeaway: Kraiger & Ford propose a new science of workplace instruction that links the design of instructional events to instructional outcomes such as transfer and job performance.
Read More (through ResearchGate): Kraiger, K. & Ford, J.K. (2021). The Science of Workplace Instruction: Learning and Development Applied to Work. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 8, 45-72.
Pets of Learning Science Weekly
Huge thanks to reader Jenn G. for sending in a pic of her snuggly babies Penelope and Woodrow (who apparently has his tongue out in every picture!). Jenn is an instructional powerhouse and a good friend of LSW. Thanks for sharing Penny and Woody with us, Jenn!
Send me (hi, I'm Julia) your pet pics at email@example.com.
Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!
The LSW Crew
Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D. Our head of growth and community is Julieta Cygiel.
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