Distributed practice

Spread student practice activities across multiple classes rather than completing them in a single class to reduce student forgetting.

Distributing practice reduces forgetting. Its benefits are called the “Spacing Effect” and have been found in 100s of studies across different types of learning including learning concepts and even surgical skills.

Distributed practice does not require more practice time. It requires us to spread out the practice time. This spreading out produces better long-term learning (Weinstein et al., 2018).

The spacing effect demonstrates that long-term learning is enhanced when learning events are spaced out in time, rather than presented in immediate succession (Vlach & Sandhofer, 2012). Distributed practice is a learning strategy that takes advantage of the spacing effect by deliberately spacing out learning over time. The spacing effect has been found in hundreds of studies since 1885 including the learning of facts, concepts, language, science, pictures, prose, and skill and motor learning such as typing, complex video games, and surgical skills (Beardsley, 2020).

How we schedule learning activities matters. If we just want students to know the material for an exam, we can encourage massed practices. However, if we want them to keep what they’ve learned for a longer period of time then distributing their practice is critical. “When retention intervals are measured at a week or greater, studies show that distributed practice nearly doubles recall performance’’ (Cepeda et al., 2006). So, with a slight alteration to how we schedule the presentation of important content, independent of how students study on their own, we can both improve student rates of learning and model to students an evidence-based lifelong learning strategy.


Vlach, H. A., & Sandhofer, C. M. (2012). Distributing learning over time: The spacing effect in children’s acquisition and generalization of science concepts. Child development, 83(4), 1137-1144.

Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological bulletin, 132(3), 354.

Roediger III, H. L., & Pyc, M. A. (2012). Inexpensive techniques to improve education: Applying cognitive psychology to enhance educational practice. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 1(4), 242-248.

Rawson, K. A., & Kintsch, W. (2005). Rereading effects depend on time of test. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(1), 70.

Bloom, K. C., & Shuell, T. J. (1981). Effects of massed and distributed practice on the learning and retention of second-language vocabulary. The Journal of Educational Research, 74(4), 245-248

Weinstein, Y., Sumeracki, M., & Caviglioli, O. (2018). Understanding how we learn: A visual guide. Routledge.

Beardsley, M. 2020. Science of Learning Concepts for Teachers (Project Illuminated) (1st ed.). Retrieved from https://illuminated.pressbooks.com/