Spacing is more effective than massed studying (aka “cramming), right? Usually yes, but not always, say leading cognitive-science researchers.
Spacing is more effective if your goal is to pass a test or accomplish an objective that you’ve had time to prepare for and need to retain long term. But cramming may work better under a few special circumstances.
Specifically, cramming may be the way to go if:
1. The goal is temporary retention. Massed training will stick for a short interval. If workers will use the training right away, say, using a new machine, you can mass the training. Reinforcement will come on the job.
2. There’s no time for spacing. Say a client wants a presentation immediately and a new sales rep needs to step in. Yes, go ahead, a mass effort is your only choice. Just don’t count on the rep to remember much if she has to present again a month from now.
Interestingly, however, the researchers also found a subset of trainees who simply do better with cramming across the board.
That last finding offers an important reminder for trainers: People learn in many different ways.
Source: Hartwig M.K., Dunlosky J. (2012). Study strategies of college students: Are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement? Psycho. Bull. Rev. 19:126–34.
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