A German psychologist named Ebbinghaus carried out an interesting experiment. He created a list of 2300 made-up words and tried to memorize them. While attempting this, he tested himself at various time intervals. The results showed that after one day, he only remembered around a third of them. After two days, he remembered just 5%.
Below is a graph showing the rest of the results.
This shows us how we remember or forget information we’ve learned or memorized
The University of Waterloo, Counselling Services, published a paper describing this curve. They found that at the beginning of instruction on day 1, we assume our students know 0% of what is going to be taught. By the end of the instruction each student will know 100% of they consider important and discard the rest of the information.
By day 2, if they have done nothing with the information that they’ve learned, not looking, thinking or dealing with it in any manner, they will lose 50-80% of what they learned the day before. That’s huge!
By the time day 7 rolls around, what do you think has happened? We remember even less!
By day 30, if we haven’t thought about, revisited, or used the information we learned on day 1, we only remember 2-3%!
The study shows us that our brain constantly stores little bits of information and if we don’t use or review that information, we dump it.
Long Term Memory in Action
We often hear students say that they have to “cram” because they have an exam coming. Cramming doesn’t help long term memory. The Waterloo University research shows us that if information we’ve previously learned comes up repeatedly, our brain won’t dump it. Our brain tells us the information was important, so we’d better store it. When information comes up repeatedly, it takes our brain less time to retrieve the information or activate the information in our long term memory.
Increase Learning Retention
Spaced repetitions are better for your children. The time they revise the material is important. For the best results, the first repetition should take place very soon after the initial learning, and each repetition after that should take place in increasingly longer intervals.
What you may have noticed is that after the revision (or repetition) the next day, a new curve has emerged – one which decreases a lot slower as you are remembering things for longer.
The problem with real life
After getting home from school, most students don’t want to look over what they have learned. In fact, the first time they revisit the topic will most likely be when they are doing their homework a few days later. That’s the first mistake – they leave the first repetition too late and don’t get the full benefit of spaced repetition.
A week later, the teacher has moved onto the next topic and there’s suddenly something else to learn. Now the student probably won’t look at the first topic again until they’re studying for a test which may be up to three weeks later. Then, after the test, they may not look at it until the exam or assessment which could be months later!
It’s a reoccuring theme – kids are missing the ideal times to consolidate knowledge and what they have learnt, so when they do revise they are not getting the full benefit. Instead of gradually changing the forgetting curve so that more knowledge is permanently retained, it’s almost as if they’re learning it again from scratch – and forgetting it just as fast.
What can we do to help our students remember what we’ve taught them? If, within 24 hours of learning something, we spend just 10 minutes reviewing it, we’ll raise the curve from only remembering 50-80% to remembering almost 100%. That’s wonderful!
After 7 days of learning something, it will only take 5 minutes of reviewing to remember around 100% of what we learned on day 1. This is opposed to only 2-3%, if we hadn’t reviewed the information and reactivated our brains.
So what happens by day 30? You’ve guessed it! If we don’t review and don’t reactivate our brains, we remember less than 2-3% but if we spend just 2-4 minutes reviewing, our brain will be storing around 100% of the pertinent information and we will be able to recall that information when needed. We’ve got it! Our brain must be constantly stimulated. If we want our memory to work, we need to review a little bit, every day. Start every lesson with a review of what was previously taught. The payoff is worth it.
Repeating or reviewing information is cumulative.
We no longer need to consciously think about it because our brain is storing the information and working for us.
> Review your notes every day after school
> Review the week’s material every weekend and complete a self-assessment
> When learning a new topic, review notes from the previous topics at the same time
> Start every lesson with a review of what was previously taught
Often students will complain that they don’t have time to do so much revision, but it actually saves a mountain of time. Your child can spend 15 minutes after school reviewing something that’s fresh in their mind, or they can ignore it and spend an hour re-learning it a week later. Additionally, if it takes them 15 minutes to review something the first time, it might only take them 5 minutes the second time as the information becomes more consolidated in their brain.
Conclusion: Spaced Repetition is good for learning!
(1) At VivaLing, all our coaches practice spaced repetition to improve our students memorization. Spaced repetition is at the heart of our pedagogy ViLLA – VivaLing Language Learning Approach.