- Blog post
Spacing: Precise scheduling not needed
Yes, you want to space follow-up retrieval events such as quizzes and scenarios, because these “spacing effects” can dramatically improve long-term retention.
The question becomes the schedule. Work intervenes, and the perfect reinforcement schedule isn’t always possible in the real world.
Good news: You have leeway within a reinforcement schedule, new research suggests. For example, say you know you are going to present material and then provide three reinforcement intervals within the next month.
Researchers tested a variety of schedules and found the most important thing was the absolute spacing – in this case, one month – rather than the spacing of the reinforcement intervals relative to one another.
That means you don’t have to worry about the precise timing of follow-up activities; a few days one way or the other won’t make much difference. More important is that learners complete all of the reinforcement exercises.
The study also provided evidence of just how powerful the spacing effect is. In this experiment, it doubled long-term retention.
Source: Karpicke, J.D. & Bauernschmidt, A. (2011). Spaced Retrieval: Absolute Spacing Enhances Learning Regardless of Relative Spacing Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 37(5), pp. 1250-1257.