Revision for Successful Learning: Massed v Distributed Practice

distributed practice pdhpe revision spaced repetition study Nov 13, 2023

In Stage 6 PDHPE we teach the students the difference between based and distributed practice and their impact on athletic performance, but have you ever looked at the differences between them and their impact on student learning? While this article is not just for Stage 6, I will be pulling a few examples from this end-of-school life.

There are 4 different approaches I have seen when it comes to revision and helping students really learn the ideas across PDHPE. Firstly, there are many teachers who use little to no revision strategy. They simply teach the content or create learning experiences for their students without building in purposeful revision. The second are teachers who meticulously plan out their revision strategy across the year, with multiple revision strategies happening on a regular basis. Third, is the teacher who focuses on mass revision at the end of the year, normally leading into exams. And finally, there are those who do revision activities at the end of each term as well as leading up to exams.

Of these approaches, two utilise massed practice, while only one uses distributed. Let me know in the comments which approach you use. 

 

Definitions

Massed practice is a learning technique that involves practising a new skill or learning a large amount of information in a single session or in a short time frame. For example, students may cram for an exam or test the night before the assessment or a teacher might dedicate a whole week to revision at the end of each term or for 2-3 weeks leading into exams.

In contrast, distributed practice involves breaking up studying into multiple sessions spaced out over time. Such study is normally shorter in duration but often adds up to more time across a year. For example, a student studying for an exam may choose to study for one hour a day over several weeks or a teacher could embed 5-minute pop quizzes at the beginning of every lesson.

Effective revision is crucial for learning and retaining information. It helps students consolidate their knowledge and improve their long-term memory. However, not all revision techniques are created equal. Here I am going to argue that distributed practice is a more effective revision technique than massed practice.

 

Massed Practice

Massed practice involves practising a new skill or learning a large amount of information in a single session or in a short time frame. It is characterised by:

  • Intensive practice in a short period of time
  • Focused on a single topic or skill
  • Limited time for rest or reflection

While massed practice can be useful for learning basic skills or information that does not need to be retained for long, it has several shortcomings and limitations. These include:

  • Limited retention and long-term learning
  • Increased cognitive load and fatigue
  • Reduced ability to transfer knowledge to new situations

Research has shown that massed practice is less effective than distributed practice for retention and recall. While massed practice can be useful for short-term learning, it is not effective for long-term retention and learning.

 

Distributed Practice

Distributed practice involves breaking up studying into multiple sessions spaced out over time. It is characterized by:

  • Practice over many different sessions
  • Smaller increments of learning over time
  • Time for rest and reflection between sessions

Distributed practice is based on cognitive science principles that suggest that learning is more effective when it is spaced out over time. This is because the brain needs time to consolidate and integrate new information into long-term memory. Research has consistently shown that distributed practice is more effective than massed practice for retention and recall. This is because distributed practice allows for better memory consolidation and retrieval, leading to improved long-term learning. Basically, by revising the content more times you are teaching your brain that the information is important and will be used more often, therefore training your brain to build the neurons to make it easier to recall the information.

 

A quick comparison

Distributed practice is more effective than massed practice, partly because it reduces cognitive load and fatigue. This is because distributed practice allows for rest and reflection between sessions, which helps the brain consolidate and integrate new information into long-term memory. Research has consistently shown that distributed practice is more effective than massed practice for retention and long-term learning. This is because distributed practice teaches our brain that this information is going to be used more often, so it stores it in a way to make use of it more easily.

Distributed practice is also more effective than massed practice for real-world applications and skill development. This is because distributed practice helps transfer knew ideas and concepts into long-term memory, where it can be easily used for deeper thinking. This allows for better transfer of knowledge to new situations and improved performance and skill development.

 

Strategies to apply distributed practice

Distributed practice is very much the same as spaced repetition and involves breaking up studying into multiple sessions spaced out over time. Examples include:

  • Flashcards and Regular Review Sessions: Students can use flashcards to review key concepts and vocabulary regularly over time.
  • Interleaved Learning Activities: Students can practice different skills or topics in a random order to improve retention and transfer of knowledge. It also helps them differentiate between the two topics.
  • Integrating Technology: Students can use interactive learning modules to practice a skill or topic in different ways, much like they do for their driver's licence tests.
  • Incorporating Collaborative Group Work: Students can work in groups to practice a skill or topic in different ways and learn from each other. The jigsaw technique is especially helpful here.
  • Regular Formative Assessments: Students can take regular quizzes or tests to assess their understanding of key concepts and vocabulary.
  • Peer-to-Peer Evaluation: Students can evaluate each other's work and provide feedback to improve their understanding and retention of key concepts.

 

Integrating revision

It is important for us to plan our revision with our students and to see this as part of the learning process. Integrating distributed practice is a quick and effective way to do this. From checking last lesson, to last term and in the HSC year, to last year. To help with this it can be useful to:

  • Break up learning into smaller increments. Focusing on a dot point at a time and ensuring there is revision for that dot point 3 times in 3 months after it was taught and then twice in the next 6 months (depending on when it was taught)
  • Provide regular opportunities for practice and reflection. This is important as we build on student's prior skills. We need to continue to allow them to practice the new with the old. Reflection questions that ask students to connect the new concepts with past related topics you have taught can also be simple but effective.
  • Use a variety of teaching methods and techniques to engage students in revision. Create a list of activities you can use for revision. Here is a quick list from AI:
    • Flashcard Review Sessions
    • Interactive Learning Modules
    • Group Concept Mapping
    • Peer Teaching Sessions
    • Spaced Repetition Techniques
    • Varied Practice Formats
    • Mind Mapping Exercises
    • Interactive Quizzes and Games
    • Reflective Journals
    • Simulations and Role-Playing
    • Conceptual Interviews
    • Conceptual Puzzles
    • Gallery Walks
    • Jigsaw Classroom
    • Self-Assessment Checklists

 

Let's wrap it up

In conclusion, distributed practice is a more effective revision technique than massed practice for long-term learning and retention. While massed practice can be useful for short-term learning, it has several shortcomings and limitations that make it less effective than distributed practice. Distributed practice allows for better memory consolidation and retrieval, leading to improved long-term learning and retention. You can implement distributed practice in the classroom by using spaced repetition techniques, varied practice formats, and various forms of quizzes.

 In summary, distributed practice is a powerful tool for improving long-term learning and retention. By embracing distributed practice, your students can achieve better academic performance and develop lifelong learning skills.

 

References

  • Ausubel, D. P., & Youssef, M. (1965). The effect of spaced repetition on meaningful learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 56(5), 301-308.
  • Bloom, K. C., & Shuell, T. J. (1981). Effects of massed and distributed practice on the learning and retention of second-language vocabulary. Journal of Educational Research, 74(4), 245-248.
  • Bruner, J. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Carpenter, S. K., Cepeda, N. J., Rohrer, D., Kang, S. H., & Pashler, H. (2012). Using spacing to enhance diverse forms of learning: Review of recent research and implications for instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 369-378.
  • Cepeda, N., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 354-380.
  • Dempster, F. N. (1987). Effects of variable encoding and spaced presentations on vocabulary learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(2), 162-170.
  • Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.
  • Hilton, H. H. (2019). Sciences cognitives et didactique des langues. Rapport d’expertise pour le Conseil national de l’évaluation du système scolaire, Conférence de consensus sur l’enseignement des langues vivantes, Paris: CNESCO.
  • Rea, C. P., & Modigliani, V. (1985). The effects of spaced practice and spaced review on recall and retention using computer assisted instruction. Educational Communication and Technology Journal, 33(1), 23-32.
  • Reder, L. M., & Anderson, J. R. (1982). A partial resolution of the paradox of interference: The role of integrating knowledge. Cognitive Psychology, 14(3), 447-492.
  • Son, L. K., & Simon, D. A. (2012). Distributed learning: Data, metacognition, and educational implications. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 379-399.
  • Suzuki, Y., Nakata, T., & DeKeyser, R. (2019). Optimizing second language practice in the classroom: Perspectives from cognitive psychology. The Modern Language Journal, 103(3), 551-561.
  • Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (2013). A Vygotskian sociocultural perspective on immersion education: The L1/L2 debate. Journal of immersion and content-based language education, 1(1), 101-129.
  • Toppino, T. C., & Gerbier, E. (2014). About practice: Repetition, spacing, and abstraction. In B. H. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Volume 60: The psychology of learning and motivation (pp. 113-189). Elsevier Academic Press.
  • Toppino, T. C., Phelan, H.-A., & Gerbier, E. (2018). Level of initial learning and spacing effects in the acquisition and retention of new vocabulary. Memory & Cognition, 46(3), 414-427.

 

Subscribe to the site

Get tips to help you:

  • teach PDHPE
  • reduce your workload
  • save time
  • engage your students
  • enjoy a long-lasting and satisfying career

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.