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Learning By Repetition


January 31, 2019



Repetition and Learning

Rote memorization can be very effective… for some people. To many, however, it’s unengaging, dispiriting and hard to get motivated for. However, great strides have been made in learning by repetition both in terms of techniques and technology. Now it can be effective at knowledge embedding for all while simultaneously being engaging and even… fun. The key is spaced repetition and the medium is the smartphone.

Learning by (Spaced) repetition

Spaced repetition, also known as distributed practice, is the technique of revising learning at increasing intervals. It’s important to use the correct schedule, however, as learning too frequently loses effectiveness because knowledge hasn’t had a chance to degrade while revising too infrequently is naturally ineffective because it gets forgotten before it’s embedded.

Why is repetition effective?

Spaced repetition, also known as distributed practice, is a highly-effective method of learning. Lessons are retaken at increasing intervals until knowledge is fully embedded in long-term memory. Spaced repetition is heavily linked to the forgetting curve which plots memory retention over time.

How effective is repetition?

Repetition is effective when deployed properly. It works to enable the long-term embedment of new knowledge, ensuring that old information is also retained.

Combatting the forgetting curve

The process of forgetting was plotted by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. It charts knowledge retention and revision over time. The graph is intuitive and illustrates the importance of learning by repetition.

forgetting-curve-wozniak learning by repetition


A major problem with repetition is repeating lessons that are large. Classroom-based lessons are impractical to attend (unless perhaps you have a private tutor) while many eLearning courses are lengthy and unengaging. The solution is microlearning which is the process of breaking information down into small, easily-digestible chunks. It’s a great enabler of learning by repetition as learners can focus on individual topics which makes knowledge retention more likely.

Learning by repetition using the SM-2 algorithm

P.A. Wozniak is credited with inventing the most effective spaced repetition algorithm. It’s called SuperMemo-2. He used it to learn 10,255 English words(!) with a 92% success rate. The problem is that manually working out a SM-2 based schedule yourself is far from simple. This is where modern technology can step in to help with learning by repetition.

Mobile learning

Mobile Learning is the process of learning on a mobile device. Smartphones are now approaching ubiquity, their screens are increasingly bright and beautiful and they’re very powerful. Leveraging these features means that learning by repetition can be greatly enhanced by using smartphones. Not only are the lessons fun and interactive, but the apps are capable of remembering which answers a learner got right. This way, they can then focus on content that learners have shown they are struggling with while running to an automatically-generated schedule until knowledge is embedded.

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Guest Author Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown is a senior technical editor and writer that has worked in the education and technology sectors for two decades. Their background experience includes curriculum development and course book creation.

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