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Dr Mike J Smith
Kingston University

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Repeat to remember.....

Thu, 03 May 2012

....it's a well worn mantra. Repeat something over-and-over to remember it (or, shout longer and louder and people will believe you!). In fact its one of of the "Brain Rules" and spaced repetition is a well known phenomena. Donald Clark covered Kandel recently which provides a nice biological context for long-term memorisation (something experimentally shown by Ebbinghaus over a century ago).

Yet as Donald notes, spaced repetition is largely ignored in training and education, although it is more endemic in primary schools where numeracy and literacy are core skills that are practised over and over. I would argue that this draws on historical norms, that repeated practise has always been done. There isn't really an appreciation of spaced repetition which could be used more powerfully. Anyway, a nice quote from Donald on Kandel:

Learning, for Kandel, is the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories (a simple fact often overlooked).

So now we have a differentiation between learning (as in the acquisition of new knowledge/skills) and education (preparation for life). It is perhaps arguable as to whether learning is simply knowledge acquisition.... knowledge is cheap (aka wikipedia), but the skills to use knowledge aren't and that's where successful people and business make a mark. However I would strongly argue that a "scaffold" of core/essential knowledge is vital to hang further learning off. A well-worn example is the memorisation of times-tables to make further mathematical understanding easier. So, spaced repetition is a powerful technique in learning that is largely unused and essential to build in to a curriculum.

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