Why Spaced Repetition Is Critical for Learning & Retention

The goals of training are changing behavior, increasing efficiency, improving performance, and solving problems.

The only way to do that is to teach learners in a way that they will understand the information, remember it, and be able to apply it in a variety of situations on the job.

It turns out that continuous microlearning is an ideal approach for meaningful — and memorable — learning.

  1. Is the corporation’s compliance training program well designed?

    Prosecutors will look at whether the training is designed to prevent and detect wrongdoing and whether management is enforcing the program by means of training, incentives and discipline.

  2. Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith? In other words, is the program being implemented effectively?

    Prosecutors are expected to directly investigate whether a program is merely a “paper program” or a sincere effort. Evidence of a company-wide commitment to ethics and compliance, promoted by senior and middle management, is needed.

  3. Does the corporation’s compliance training program work in practice?

    Good intentions and training don’t count if they don’t work; in assessing whether the program “works in practice,” prosecutors will look at how the suspected misconduct was detected, what the company’s investigation process is and how the company is trying to correct the problem.

Microlearning delivers small, narrowly focused bits of information.

Adaptive microlearning tailors that content to each learner’s knowledge gaps and learning goals, ensuring the training is relevant.

Continuous adaptive microlearning conditions each learner to engage with relevant training every day — for just a few minutes.

Current Rank

Previous Rank

Technology

1

1

Personalization/adaptive delivery

2

3

Artificial intelligence

3

new

Learning analytics

4

2

Collaborative/social learning

5

5

Micro learning

6

new

Learning experience platforms

7

7

Virtual and augmented reality

8

10

Mobile delivery

9

4

Consulting more deeply with the business

10

6

Showing value

11

new

Performance support

12

11

Neuroscience/cognitive science

13

13

Video

14

9

Curation

15

12

Developing the L&D function

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When people have a question or don’t know how to do something, what do they do?

Whip out a smartphone and look for information. What they don’t do is sign up for a 1-hour seminar.

Microlearning brings corporate eLearning into the modern paradigm. Microlearning describes eLearning content that is:

  • Narrowly focused
  • Short
  • Available on demand
  • Mobile-first or mobile-friendly

It must answer a question, meet an immediate need, or help the learner solve a problem.

In the City of BigTown, there was held a conference,
One of training professionals — those making a difference.
A difference to company ROI by delivering training,
From many perspectives — like Manufacturing.
And, too, there were call centers, colleges, corporate sectors,
Each chiming in about outcomes and metrics.
All shipped their training through an LMS platform,
But were desperately seeking true training reform.

Antonio

One was Antonio, who hated the manuals —
For his product revisions and updates, they were annual.
Plus his printing costs? Oh, they were crazy!
And he truly believed that franchisors were hazy.

None knew how to train in an effective way,
"There’s too much to read, to do!” they’d all say.
For there were many levels of training to assign,
From the top at head office, down to those on the front-line.

Trainers Helen and Abinash nodded, “We agree!”
Said Feng, "Paper and handbooks? Just another dead tree.
On the job, not everyone will have the info they need,
Because the content changes and updates they never did read.
They never learned the content added along the way
That may apply to their region or division today.
Plus, in the field with team members in many locations,
Mobile-first training would make a stronger foundation!

Said Sales trainer Jane of her PDFs stored online,
“They’re rarely revisited after onboarding time.
I need content delivered in snack-sized bites,
And the ability to test them until they get it right.”
Ursula
chimed in, "Onboarding’s a pain for new hires,
With most feeling like their hair is on fire!
Plus, promoted reps must refresh what they know
To be properly prepared to perform their new role."

"I deal with compliance," sighed Manal the Banker.
Abinash nodded, Frank turned to thank her,
For she’d raised the ugliest concern of them all —
That certifications aren’t based on year-long recall.
“To maintain the standards and follow each rule,
We need more than one test that comes out of the blue.
When it comes to things like health & safety, it's a game-changer
Because if their training is lacking, they could be in danger.”

Antonio

Continuing he asked, “Could training be location-specific?
As learners move through the plant, alerts would be terrific!”
Helen asked who used traditional classroom training
Combined with online to keep interest from waning.
Did they have workshops, seminars, or events,
The kind that take workers away from their desk?
"They learn at that moment, then likely forget —
is there a way to get long-term retainment?”

Rachel had been quiet, she’d said not a word,
When suddenly she leaned in so her voice would be heard.
"We solved these concerns after ditching binders and books —
We use daily drip training and our learners are hooked!
When we update our content, it gets to them faster,
And metrics and KPIs reveal the content 'masters.'
We use OttoLearn for microlearning and we’ve been thrilled,
for all of our training needs — and more — are fulfilled."

So ends our tale of the nine trainers complaining
about the problems they had delivering training.
Training that mattered, with metrics and firm ROI,
Based on data analysis of prime KPIs.
Many problems they shared, with no clear resolution,
Found Agile Microlearning with Otto was the solution!
Microlearning both adaptive and agile saved them from disaster,
Making trainers and trainees learn happily ever after!

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  • Combining the question and activity tabs
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  • Icons to indicate correct answer, position locking, whether or not the answer is visible to learners (active), and override feedback

Recently Released

  • Learner password reset
  • Streamlined data entry into the content studio, by being able to quickly add
  • Numerous small updates and bug fixes
  • Check out our most recent updates and add yourself to be automatically notified when we push updates

Option

Pros

Cons

Seats

  • Super easy to understand
  • Very predictable cost, if you have a specific number of users (eg: employees)
  • Doesn’t differentiate between users that have different volumes.
  • Have to purchase seats for your maximum number of users.‍

Active Users
(Typically the number of users that log in during a month)

  • You don’t need a license for every specific user, you can often only license half of your users (since perhaps only half ever log in during a month)
  • Typically there is a large cost for going over your licensed number of users, which can be incredibly expensive (eg: 5-10x more than your licensed cost)
  • You often have to “play games” as an administrator, not wanting to do a mass course enrollment if you have only have your users licensed in a month

Trend

What It Means

Why It Matters

Adaptive Learning

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Efficiency. Learners learn the material faster because they spend less time on what they already know.

Personalized Learning

Learners can follow a scaffolded learner path or self-direct their learning.

Learners are inquisitive. We all Google for information when we need it, so why lock learners into a particular learning path?

Learners engage the most when they are allowed to deviate from a set path and explore available content.

At the end of the day, as long as each learner reaches their mastery goal, the particular path they took to reach there is unimportant.

Microlearning

Delivering content to the learner in smaller chunks.

Chunking content is important only if it is paired with the ability to search for and find specific content chunks “on demand” and the ability to consume just the chunks a learner needs. With these features, training doubles as a performance support.

Learning Experience (LX) Design

Using science and art to create experiences that help learners fulfill the learning outcomes they desire, in a user-centered and goal-directed way.1

Have you used Google? If so, then you have benefitted from Experience Design (XD): When you search for something, you rarely have to go past the first result.

With good XD, you don’t think about the design;  it “just works.”

With poor XD, your learners will disengage. They’ll say they “don’t have time.” What they are really saying is that they “don’t have time for the poor experience.”

Artificial Intelligence

Typically, when used in relation to L&D, AI actually means “machine learning.”

Machine learning algorithms learn from data and “get smarter” over time.

Have you used Netflix or Amazon recommendations? They are based on machine learning.

The algorithms look at a ton of data, including your past choices and choices made by others who are similar to you, to make predictions as to what you will want to watch or buy.

In L&D, machine learning principles are being integrated in much the same way: to provide recommended content for a learner to consume.

This reduces the burden on training administrators to try to predict or guess what is relevant for each learner. It also provides a more personalized experience for each learner.

Imagine that you are a salesperson, and your training mix subtly and automatically shifts, based on the nature of opportunities in your sales pipeline. You are offered training only on available products that you have not already mastered. That would be a training program that is driven by machine learning.

Learning Analytics

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Use learning analytics to make better decisions by converting data into insights.
The true value is not just in providing more data, more charts, and more graphs. The value is in leveraging AI to search for and surface insights that you’d never think to look for.

Combine the analytics from learners’ performance with key KPIs for the outcomes you desire, and have the analytics engine generate predictions such as, “Learners who reach mastery in the Objection Handling module will close 3.4 percent more deals.”

Now that’s actionable intel.

1 learningexperiencedesign.com

14% of organizations are experimenting with artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning and live chat (up from 6% in 2016)
30% of organizations are using games and simulations (up from 20% in 2016)
Fastest growth segments include continuous learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR)
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The Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Adaptive MicrolearningThe Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Microlearning

Hi Josh,

About a week before I began getting my Ottolearn Mastery Moments, I had a popup window from Adobe appear on my screen as I was working on another project, prompting me to update my version of Flash. We do use Flash, so like an idiot, I clicked on the popup and asked it to start the update—and only then noticed that the url was not an adobe address. Of course, I closed the popup window using the X in the upper corner, which didn’t solve anything. Our IT guys did the best they could for me, but my computer is still compromised, and is being replaced.

Fast forward to Ottolearn and your Online Security for Employees course. After completing several mastery moments, I have now learned what to do with popups like that. This morning, as I restarted my computer again, that same Adobe popup appeared and this time I was ready! I opened task manager and killed that little $%^&^ dead in its tracks.

I know the point of letting us try out OttoLearn as participants was for us to experience the power of this platform from the learner’s point of view. I can tell you that I personally am very grateful for the training you provided to me, and the fact that I was able to let others in my company know how to kill off those nasty virus-carrying popups. Yes, it works. Yes, it’s fun! And yes, I have a true feeling of accomplishment.

I can’t wait for the point at which we can talk more about developing courses for our clients.

Thank you!

Experience

Exp.

High

New accounting rules

Workplace violence & harassment prevention

Low

Framing a basement

Changing a tire

High

Low

Perceived Relevance

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Retrieval practice is the key to retention.

Your brain wants to be as efficient as possible. Why would it try to encode information for long term storage if it thinks you don’t need it? You need to actually practice retrieving memories (information) in order to have your brain store it in long-term memory.

Spaced retrieval radically improves learning efficiency.

You not only need to practice retrieving information from memory, but you need to wait until you’re on the edge of forgetting it. This is why cramming is so ineffective at generating long-term retention.

Interleaved learning feels strange at first, but dramatically improves retention and skill.

Interleaved learning—mixing up material while learning and practicing, such as mixing up practice activities while learning WHMIS and supervisory skills, will improve your retention of both.

That’s the perfect setup for spaced repetition, a scientifically validated approach to teaching for long-term retention and application.

Let’s examine the brain science behind the concept of continuous microlearning, starting with the Spacing Effect.

The Spacing Effect Builds Long-Term Retention

A key principle in building long-term retention is spaced repetition, an idea that has been repeatedly demonstrated since Hermann Ebbinghaus first experimented with it over 100 years ago.

“Retrieval studies by Ebbinghaus demonstrated the value of spaced practice (many short sessions) over massed practice (a single long session) in LTM [long-term memory]. Further studies confirmed this retrieval spacing effect,” according to Paul Kelley and Terry Whatson in “Making Long-Term Memories in Minutes.”

Ebbinghaus’ research popularized a concept called the “Forgetting Curve,” a graphical depiction of how much learners retain — and how much they forget — over time, after learning ends. From this, the idea of repeating exposure at appropriate intervals emerged.

While many eLearning formats provide learners with a comprehensive — long — course that the learners go through once, offering learning in short sessions, with breaks of varying lengths between sessions, is far more effective.

Kelley and Whatson tested spaced learning to supplement conventional teaching with high-school students to both provide overviews of new material and replace longer course-review sessions — as well as to replace conventional teaching altogether. They found that “one hour of instruction through Spaced Learning had a significantly greater impact than many hours of teaching.”

Forgetting Is Essential to Learning and Retention

Image of a young woman, looking deep in thought with her hand on her chin - OttoLearn Microlearning

Spacing out and repeating exposure to information is only one piece of the puzzle.

We’re all exposed to an enormous amount of information and stimuli during a normal day or week. Our brains have to choose what to remember — and what to forget. Research cited in “The Benefit of Forgetting in Thinking and Remembering” by Benjamin C. Storm describes “retrieval-induced forgetting.” That’s a brain mechanism for deciding what to remember and what to forget. “The ability to retrieve and generate information that is wanted, relevant, and appropriate is made possible by the ability to inhibit, and thus forget, information that is unwanted, irrelevant, and inappropriate,” Storm wrote.

One factor in the brain’s determination that something is “wanted” or “relevant” is how often that information is repeated. Multiple encounters with similar information signal the brain to hold onto that knowledge by storing it in long-term memory.

Another signal of importance is how much other stored information is related to a concept or snippet of information. The brain builds connections among pieces of information; the more connections, the more important a fact is deemed to be.

Simple Storage Is Not Enough

For a learner to recall information when it’s needed and apply it to a relevant situation, simply having learned and remembered it is insufficient. Practice at retrieval is also essential.

“Retrieval-based learning appears to be an underused strategy for long-term retention. It involves repeatedly recalling information across multiple study and recall sessions, Connie Malamed wrote in “The Power of Retrieval Practice for Learning.” That dramatically increases long-term retention: “In a summary of the research, one article notes that the information is more resistant to interference; shows a lower forgetting rate; and remains accessible in situations where a person must multitask when attentional processes are heavily loaded,” Malamed wrote.

Continuous Microlearning Puts Brain Science to Work

Illustration of a brain overlaid with lines connecting with dots on a blue and pink gradient background - OttoLearn Agile Microlearning

Microlearning platforms are an ideal way to implement spaced repetition and retrieval practice. An adaptive microlearning platform like OttoLearn uses algorithms to repeat exposure to key content at carefully chosen intervals to ensure that learners retain critical information. Activities call on learners to retrieve and apply the learning in a variety of ways, including mini-scenarios that resemble situations they are likely to encounter at work. Finally, the adaptive character of Otto ensures that the information delivered to each learner is highly relevant and applicable to their learning and career goals.

Calibrating the Algorithm

“Our ability to remember a piece of information depends critically on the number of times we have reviewed it,” as well as the frequency and amount of time between reviews, researchers Behzad Tabibian et al assert in “Enhancing Human Learning via Spaced Repetition Optimization.” Tabibian’s team is working on an algorithm that delivers repetition of material at the optimal interval to foster long-term retention — a task that the algorithms in OttoLearn also perform.

Otto calculates a unique “forgetting signature” for each learner and each Concept the learner is studying. It calibrates content delivery based on that information, ensuring that each learner gets the right content at the right interval to maximize retention.

Adopt a Learning and Retention Strategy

Don’t just expose learners to massive amounts of content once — or once a year — and assume they know it. Move up to a learning and retention strategy that ensures learners’ ability to remember and apply what they’ve learned. Realize the full potential return on your training investment with a science-based, proven approach to mastery and retention: OttoLearn adaptive microlearning.

Interested in learning more? Read The Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn to discover nine proven principles of learning science that drive OttoLearn’s success.

Option

Pros

Cons

User-based
(Seats)

  • Cost predictability. Each seat costs you $x/month
  • Typically more expensive than a usage-based license

Usage-based

  • Typically less expensive than a seats license
  • Cost variability tempered by pre-purchasing usage credits that never expire and consume them over time

Engagement Factors

Experience

Exp.

High

  • Best possible quadrant for engagement 
  • Will overcome learning obstacles
  • Will find a way to learn, even if materials are poor  
  • Won’t need nudging or incentives
  • Text is great
  • Can easily learn something
  • May need to work up the energy to engage in low quality materials  
  • May procrastinate, so incentives can help motivate.
  • Text is great

Low

  • Wants to learn
  • Has little experience so can benefit from more instructional quality
  • Greatest benefit of video and other rich media
  • Worst possible quadrant  
  • May not have experience in the topic
  • May not really care about it
  • Will require a lot of motivation to see engagement
  • Video can help

High

Low

Perceived Relevance

Neovation Learning Solutions Team - OttoLearn Microlearning is a product of Neovation Learning Solutions Training Engagement, Retention, and Microlearning - OttoLearn Microlearning

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