The Spaced Learning Effect: The Key to Knowledge Retention (2024)

The Spaced Learning Effect: The Key to Knowledge Retention (2024)

Corporate learning and development is undergoing a revolution. 

The changing workforce demographics, coupled with a dynamic market for digital products and services, has changed the way learning is viewed. 

Effective long-term learning is no longer achieved with traditional, one-off classroom training sessions that overwhelm learners with too much information at once, making it difficult to retain key information.

Humans tend to have a memory half-life of a few days unless the knowledge that is learned is continuously reviewed. 

This concept, spotted by Ebbinghaus in 1885, is called the “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve”. The forgetting curve demonstrates the rate at which information is forgotten over time if no effort is made to retain it.

In an effort to meet the needs of businesses today, an evolution from the traditional classroom training programs is necessary. 

Spaced learning is an effective learning strategy that meets the needs of corporate training by helping people learn as quickly and efficiently as possible while providing the added benefit of minimizing the loss of knowledge that occurs with one-time learning.

spaced learning

What is Spaced Learning?

Spaced learning is based on the concept that learning is enhanced when knowledge is repeated after certain intervals.

Spaced learning breaks down long employee training programs into several sessions or modules of shorter durations, with spaced intervals in between. Parts of these sessions are reintroduced multiple times over the course of the next few days or weeks for learners to recall information, driving long-term knowledge retention.

The 3 Phases of Spaced Learning Design

Spaced learning in conventional use consists of three intensive instructional periods, separated by 10-minute breaks or distraction material that is not connected to the learning outcome.

These three instruction periods present the same information, but each with a different emphasis. This sequence in a session is “present, recall, understand.” 

  • Present: The first input session, the “present” phase, is a classroom or video lecture.
  • Recall: The second session, “recall,” rolls out simple quizzes or assignments for learners to recall what they have learned. 
  • Understand: In the third session, learners apply their learnings to a problem or task. The breaks between input sessions give learners time to embed the knowledge in memory.
Spaced Learning Design

The session is repeated multiple times, gradually increasing the time span between each session in terms of days, weeks, or months. The number of repetitions or review sessions depends on the complexity of the content being taught, time available, and the audience. 

Related Resources

Benefits of the Spaced Learning Technique

Let’s discuss a few benefits of spaced learning.

1. Overcomes the forgetting curve

Spaced learning overcomes the effects of the forgetting curve by providing learners with periodic review and reinforcement of previously learned knowledge and information. The first reinforcement period occurs within 24 hours of the initial learning or later, depending on the complexity of the information.

Memory retention and Forgetting Curve

2. Connects to the real-world

Spaced learning incorporates interactive and real-world scenarios into your training programs. Opportunities for application, such as role-playing in workshops and simulations in online eLearning courses help link knowledge to real-world situations. 

Allowing employees to practice what they’ve learned on-the-job, engrains the knowledge in their memory, and enables them to recall the most relevant and applicable knowledge in the future to be more effective and productive in their role.

3. Reduced mental exhaustion

Another advantage of using spaced learning in employee training is that information is delivered in short bursts. Shorter learning modules prevent fatigue, reduce mental exhaustion, and keep learners engaged with the content.

How to Use the Spaced Learning Method

Here’s how to use the spaced learning method for your workforce.

1. Schedule short and routine learning sessions

Spaced learning works on the concept of short and frequent study sessions for learners to recall their learnings to build knowledge retention – firmly embedding the information in their memory.

The generic structure for the spaced learning technique, as explained previously, is to present one learning activity for a few minutes followed by a few minutes break. The lecture and break intervals are tailored according to learning needs, content, and audience.

For instance, a simple training module can have a  5-minute video lecture with a 10-minute break between the lessons. In contrast, a complex training module exceeds 5 minutes of lecture time, needs longer breaks, and needs to be repeated more frequently than simple information.

2. Take extended periods of time to review learning materials

Instead of making employees try to cram entire lesson plans and countless types of training material in a single study session, spaced learning works on the concept of reviewing information at gradually increasing intervals. This pattern may look different for each employee, depending on their experience and skillset. 

Here’s an example of what a typical spaced repetition schedule looks like:

Spaced Lessons

The research by Ebbinghaus highlighted that the first few repetitions should be made within a few days. As retention becomes better with time, repetition can be made within weeks, or months, depending on how long the course lasts. 

To simplify this process, keep in mind that there is no fixed optimal spaced period, and It depends on the targeted retention interval. If you want to maximize performance on a test that is one week away, then a spaced approach of one day would be optimal. However, if the information needs to be retained for an entire year, a spaced approach of two months between learning sessions would be ideal.

3. Associate new knowledge with old knowledge

Learning content needs to be connected and grouped in related concepts to help learners create patterns between previously learned training material and the new learning content. 

Designers must make associations and include examples and stories that integrate an underlying connection between two subject matters or ideas. Stories are a great way to recall old topics and connect them to new ones while assuring maximum connection and understanding how old and new topics fit together.

4. Real-world application

In representing learning content, opportunities for active engagement with information are essential to achieve proper understanding.

Learning activities such as note-taking and infographics are always necessary for an eLearning course. However, these components need to be complemented by additional components that require learners to apply their knowledge, such as interactive videos, teamwork tasks, simulations, quizzes, etc. By practicing newly acquired knowledge, employees are more likely to retain the information and get motivated to keep learning in the future. 

How to Create a Spaced Learning Corporate Training Program

Let’s discuss the process of creating a spaced learning program to improve your corporate training.

1. Meet with business leaders

The success of every training program requires buy-in from stakeholders. Therefore, before designing the spaced learning program, speak with the business partners to determine if it meets their needs.

2. Identify the learning timeframe

Identify the maximum number of hours each learner needs to participate in the training program to obtain a commitment to schedule that time for learning. Learning periods can last as little as 30 minutes each day to a few hours each week depending on the complexity of the training course, the time between training and implementing the learning, and the learner’s experience.

3. Combine spaced learning with microlearning

Microlearning is another important principle of learning and is closely related to spaced learning. Microlearning refers to breaking the learning content into small, bite-sized information modules rather than overwhelming the learners with too much information at once. 

Smaller learning sessions offer just the right amount of information necessary to achieve a specific objective. This concept fits perfectly with spaced learning as you can deliver shorter nuggets of information with intervals in between.

4. Repeat content in different formats

One of the key aspects of spaced learning is to mix up the learning approach. People engage better and absorb information thoroughly when received through different formats. Separate your learning material into bite-sized chunks of eLearning, making sure that each concept is repeated in various contexts – such as visual aids, audio presentations, scenarios, case studies, gamified exercises, or simulations. 

Implementing learning via different methods prevents boredom, caters to different learning styles of different employees, keeps employees engaged in the program, and increases knowledge retention.

5. Conduct a debriefing session

Include facilitator-led debriefing sessions where learners share the value of the information presented during the spaced learning program. These allow learners to review the training modules, self-correct, improve their future performance, and discuss any pitfalls and successes experienced during the course. 

The facilitator guides these discussions, acknowledges the thoughts and feelings of the learners, addresses any doubts or misconceptions in the content, and highlights positive takeaways from the learning intervals.

6. Track results with quizzes

It’s essential to continuously track how well learners are absorbing information to get the maximum output from your training programs. To monitor training, spaced learning incorporates frequent quizzes within the modules rather than relying on one comprehensive exam after the training. 

Quizzes are one of the best methods for learners to recall and apply their knowledge. Aside from tracking progress, quizzes encourage learners to engage with the content, promote active learning, and improve knowledge retention.

Spaced Learning

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve demonstrates the rate at which information is forgotten over time when no effort is made to retain it.

Spaced learning is based on the concept that learning is enhanced when knowledge is repeated after certain intervals.

1. Meet with business leaders

2. Identify the learning timeframe

3. Combine spaced learning with microlearning

4. Repeat content in different formats

5. Conduct a debriefing session

6. Track results with quizzes

Implement Effective Corporate Training with DAP

Any organization that invests in employee development is investing in its own success. By providing ongoing corporate training for your employees, you are creating an adaptive, flexible, and skilled workforce that contributes at a high level to your organization. 

To keep pace with the remote work culture and maintain high workforce productivity, implement digital adoption platforms to provide your employees with a remote, flexible, learn-at-your-own-pace, and personalized training experience. 


Whatfix DAP disrupts typical application training, learning, and support content by providing contextual, interactive, real-time, and autonomous user guidance – driving productivity gains for employees. With Whatfix, employees follow in-app guidance and interactive walkthroughs to become proficient in new software or application. Its self-support knowledge bases allow employees to learn without IT or support tickets.

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