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Why Spaced Repetition is the Missed Opportunity in Education Today

July 24, 2011, 9:59 AM

I wrote several articles about memorization on this blog already and last week I learned about a new scientific study that proves once more that the use of the Internet can actually have a negative influence on our capabilities of memorizing information especially if we tend to rely on our “outsourced” brains in an extensive way. 

It seems as if the art of memorization is becoming a relict of the past just like sewing, knitting or taking care of shoes, something our parents and grandparents were still capable of because it was basically mandatory. 

To use a metaphor from the tech world, it feels like our brains are turning more into Random Access Memory and away from being a hard drive. We memorize information for short term use or we memorize short cuts that deliver us more information when needed, like the URL of Wikipedia or Google for example. 

The interesting part about all of this is that at present day we know pretty well how memory works. There is no doubt that spaced repetition is one of the best ways to get information in our long term memory, still this concept is not yet part of the school system. 

Maybe even worse, it is not part of Khan Academy, the alleged savior of the education system. The concept behind Khan Academy is that if you get the right answer ten times in a row, you got the concept. But that is not the entire truth. You got it at this very moment and maybe also still a few weeks later but it is far from being in your long term memory. 

If you take concepts that you are using every day like addition, subtractions and fractions you are automatically refreshing your memory every time you deal with the concept. But as soon as we are talking about more complex subjects we have the same problem as before, also when learning with the Khan Academy. Even Bill Gates says that he uses Khan Academy “to refresh” certain concepts. 

I believe spaced repetition needed to become an essential part of blended learning concepts. As technology is giving us easy access to information it could also be used to strengthen our memory instead of being an easy short cut only. 

I have had the opportunity to talk to an expert in the field of spaced repetition for one of my KWestions interviews. Greg Detre founded a start-up called Memrise and in the interview he talked more in detail about how our brains work and how people learn. If you’re interested in the potential of spaced repetition concepts in order to learn you shouldn’t miss on this interview.

Photo: Morguefile user clarita


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