Spacing and retrieval involves separating learning over multiple lessons and providing opportunities for students to recall what they have previously learned in different contexts. Science indicates that this helps to commit learning to long-term memory.
Australian Professional Standards for Teachers
Why spacing and retrieval practice works
Understanding the science behind learning and memory can help teachers understand why spacing and retrieval practice are so effective in helping students learn and remember information. Depending on the situation, spacing can strengthen learning, or make students less likely to be mentally exhausted, and retrieval practice can strengthen memories, or make them more likely to be retrieved and connected to new information later.
Spacing and retrieval diagram
Having breaks between practice sessions can help to avoid mental resource depletion that results from focusing mental effort on similar learning tasks. In this diagram, the batteries represent the available resources to help process information and commit to long-term memory. The battery level illustrates how mental resources available for learning may be gradually depleted by extended practice and replenished by a break.
Working memory is what we use to learn new ideas and manipulate information. Working memory has limited capacity.
When we are required to manage a lot of new information, we can run out of space in our working memory. The scientific term for this is cognitive overload. If you are cognitively overloaded, learning can suffer, and it can be harder to move information to long-term memory.
Spacing and retrieval practice has a strong evidence base that meets our highest standards of evidence. For more information about the evidence base, see below:
Tried and Tested practice guide
Annotated reference list
Using the practice
To be effective, spacing and retrieval practice need to be implemented well. See below some 'things to know' when using these practices.
Snapshots of practice
Spacing and retrieval practice may look different in different contexts. See below examples of spacing and retrieval practice in a variety of classrooms and settings.
Example of practice
Spacing and retrieval at Alfred Deakin High School
Here you will find tools to help you implement spacing and retrieval practice in your classroom or setting.