How to Use Spaced Repetition and Retrieval Practice in Microlearning

spaced repetition
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Let’s admit it.

Learners forget most of what they had learned 6 months after training. And that’s why training programs sometimes fail to deliver training ROI.

Why does this happen? Well, Ebbinghaus in his ‘forgetting curve’ theory announced to the world way back in 1870 that memory decays over time. 

The solution lies in repeating the learning and making them recall the learning through a deep dive into their memory.

And how do we ensure repetition and recall of learning? Through ‘Microlearning’ of course!

How Much of What’s Learned is Forgotten?

According to Ebbinghaus:

      • Learning drops from 100% to 75% very quickly (within minutes).

      • Only 58% of what’s learned remains after 20 minutes.

      • Only 44% is left after 1 hour, and 33% after 1 day.

      • A mere 25% of learning remains after 6 days.

    How do you make sure that your workforce remembers their learning after 3 or 6 months?

    After all, your training effectiveness is at stake here!

    Turbo-charging Training Effectiveness with Spaced Repetition and Retrieval

    There are two concepts that will help increase training effectiveness, when done right and done together:

        1. Spaced repetition
        2. Spaced retrieval

      Spaced repetition is regularly providing the same content to learners over time. Repeating the information/ knowledge will reactivate the memory just before it’s forgotten. The trick to doing this right is to know:

          • How frequently you should repeat the information.

          • When to mix previous learning with new learning in the microlearning bursts.

          • When and how to repeat the information so it doesn’t interfere with what’s already learned.

        It’s important to remember that the human brain needs to understand and learn the current information before being introduced to new information, and not to overload learners with too much information as it cannot be absorbed easily.

        Spaced retrieval is a very powerful way to build memory – trying to recall learning by jogging the memory.

        What’s recalled becomes even more recallable in future. This is what you need to accomplish with microlearning which can be used to supplement, reinforce, augment or remediate training initiatives. Regardless of the purpose, building recall is a must!

        How to Implement Spaced Repetition & Retrieval Practice

        Spaced repetition must be done first to elicit spaced retrieval.

        Spacing your microlearning snippets – what is the optimal interval between one snippet (on a specific topic or objective) and the next one? Is there a formula for that?

        No! But a one size-fits-all approach won’t work with spaced repetition and retrieval. The schedule or interval  depends on the learning requirements, level of learning difficulty, learner profile, and industry type.

        There are two factors that help decide the frequency of microlearning lessons:

            • The importance or criticality of the information, knowledge, or skill

            • The chances of it being forgotten by the learners

          Critical information with high impact to business requires very frequent repetition and retrieval. Here’s an example.

          → Learn more through our Webinar: Reinvent Compliance Training–Using Microlearning With A Risk-Specific Approach?

          As you can see, the red portion is high on importance with greater chance of being forgotten.

          As it’s impossible to know the extent to which learners forget the information, it’s best you schedule multiple microlearning snippets to reintroduce and reinforce the information/ knowledge.

          There are two ways you can schedule the microlearning lessons:  

          Uniform schedule: In uniform schedule, the spacing between two learning events remains the same. For example, repeating lessons on a certain topic every two months.

          Expanding schedule: In this type of schedule, the interval (or spacing) between learning events increases with each subsequent microlearning intervention. For instance, the first repetition after 1 month, the second after 2 months, and so on, with the interval increasing by 1 month for subsequent repetition/ retrieval.

          Either of these spacing approaches can be applied depending on the learning objective. But it’s better to use different microlearning formats for repetition and retrieval practice, as otherwise it can get very boring. 

          How Retrieval Practice Builds Memory

          Retrieval practice and repetition complement each other!

          Retrieving information from the brain is a powerful memory modifier. This can be done through a test, assessment, gamification exercise, short sim, or quiz, modifying the ‘memory trace’ of the learner. A modified memory trace enables the learner to access the same information very easily in the future.

          Memory retention is greatly enhanced by testing In fact, testing (quizzes, recall or gamification exercises) is proven to be much more powerful than re-studying.

          While spaced repetition is hygiene, retrieval practice has an even greater role to play in building memory. Remember how you learn a poem by reciting, and not just reading it. Attempting to recite is akin to retrieval practice.

          Impact of Spaced Repetition and Retrieval Practice

          These twin concepts not only improve recall, but also influence learner behavior at work, helping the workforce become part of a truly responsive learning organization.

          Periodic microlearning snippets increase performance, helping employees them gain ‘mastery’ in their area of expertise.

          Using and integrating these twin concepts in microlearning lessons will help create core competencies and competitive advantage at the organisational level.

          Let’s understand this better with a case study where these concepts were applied simultaneously.

          A training manager in XYZ Healthcare wanted to increase the quality of patient-nurse interaction and communication of nurses in the medical set-up. He conducted an experiment on two sets of nurses – Team A & Team B – to assess the effectiveness of Spaced Repetition vs. Spaced Repetition and Retrieval Practice.

          Spaced repetition was applied for both teams with a string of separate microlearning snippets (as revision material) every 2 weeks for 3 months.

          Team A was also prompted with retrieval-based questions/quizzes through microlearning nuggets every 2 weeks for 3 months.

          After 3 months, it was seen that Team A demonstrated a significant behavioral change at work compared to Team B, and were more willing to apply what was learned.

          So, while spaced repetition was applied for both teams, Team A stood out because of the periodic retrieval practice-questions. 

          To conclude, though spaced repetition and retrieval practice in microlearning provide higher retention and recall among learners, overall training effectiveness and training ROI go up only when both the concepts are used together.

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