eLearn Australia - custom elearning solutions


What works in elearning (3/5):
Learning methods that work: Spaced repetition

Tuesday 21st April, 2020

In this series on What Works in Elearning, we’re looking at the specific learning methods that research have been found to be effective in elearning.

You need to give learning time

It may come as no surprise that the common practice of cramming before an exam isn’t a very effective way to learn. If you want information to go into long-term memory then you need to take a long-term approach. You need to give learning time.

Three birds on three spaced-out posts

What is spaced repetition?

Spaced repetition, or spaced practice, involves presenting information in short time frames and then repeating that information over time.

In Will Thalheimer’s (2006) review of the research into spaced learning, he presents the extensive evidence base for spaced learning’s effectiveness as a learning method.

For learning that requires long-term memory retrieval, there are greater effects with spaced repetition than a single presentation of information or even non-spaced repetition.

The repeated information does not need to be the same

The form the information takes does not need to be the same with each repetition – so it could be the same information repeated; rephrased; stories or illustration (that provide context or example); testing, practice, exercises, case studies, role plays (that provide retrieval practice); or discussions, collaboration or other forms of shared learning.

Repetition can be through different modalities (visual, auditory) and media (text, audio, in person, etc).

Wide spacing vs short spacing

Wider spacing has been found to be more effective than short spacing but obviously not too wide.

Match the spacing interval to the retrieval interval

A guide is to match the spacing interval to the retrieval interval – so if you would like someone to remember it in a week, do weekly spacing. Length of spacing is not as important as having consistent spacing intervals.

Using spaced repetition with retrieval practice

Spaced repetition can be applied to the retrieval practice learning method we discussed in our previous post by using retrieval practice techniques (simulation, quizzes) instead of presentation-only repetitions.

As just mentioned, spacing out retrieval practice techniques benefits the long-term memory learning effects of these activities.

Examples of spaced repetition in elearning

Elearning provides unique opportunities for spaced repetition thanks to automatic scheduling and ease and breadth of delivery through devices or email.

A short video can be delivered to a learner’s mobile phone every month to present compliance and/or training information.

Playing video on phone

Quizzes can be spaced every week, fortnight or month within learning modules.

In an elearning course we recently developed for workers in the Aged Care sector, one of the key learning criteria was recognising and responding to elder abuse. Throughout the modules, learners were asked to identify ‘reportable assault’ under the relevant aged care legislation.

Reportable assaults in elder abuse elearning example Elder abuse prevention and chemical restraint elearning modules for aged care workers

Learners needed to recall what they’d previously learned and then apply it to different case studies spaced throughout the modules.

We need to change the way we think about learning

What is clear from the effectiveness of spaced repetition as a learning method, is the need for attitudinal as well as behavioural change in elearning.

We need to change the way we think about learning from a one-time event to something that happens over time.


Thalheimer, W. (2006, February). Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says. Retrieved 26 February 2020, from http://www.work-learning.com/catalog/