A lesson worth learning

April 24, 2014

It is useful to learn from Hazel Christie’s thoughtful review of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel (Books, 3 April) that the first principle they propose is that learning should be distributed and not massed.

In 1885 in Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology, Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) reported his pioneering experiment, which showed the superiority of distribution, and noted that: “The school-boy doesn’t force himself to learn his vocabularies and rules altogether at night, but knows that he must impress them again in the morning. A teacher distributes his class lesson not indifferently over the period at his disposal, but reserves in advance a part of it for one or more reviews.”

One wonders why it has taken so long for the efficacy of these practices to be fully appreciated.

R. E. Rawles
Honorary research fellow in psychology
University College London

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