In 1913, Ebbinghaus demonstrated that spacing learning out over time creates much more efficient learning than cramming a learning task into a single intense session. Now, a new discovery has been made for a specific spaced-learning strategy that so far is the best of all. In reviewing this new design, Kelley and Whatson (2013) point out experiments showing that this kind of spaced learning is optimal for information encoding and for activation of the genes needed to form long-term memory.

And what is the design? The idea begins with the established notion that a given learning task should be “chunked” so that it can be studied in a short time, on the order say of 20 minutes. What is novel about the new design is that a given chunk is studied three times in a single session, with two intervening “rest” periods of 10 minutes in which there is little mental activity. During the rest periods, physical activity, like shooting hoops or cycling, seem to be ideal. The reason for these intervening rest periods is that thinking about new information or performing mental tasks creates interference with the memory-forming processes already under way.

Of course, like most learning tasks, a single session, even with three repetitions within it, is not likely to be sufficient unless you are really adept at mnemonic techniques (Klemm, 2012). After a day or so, this strategy needs to be repeated one or more times.

This is so simple to do and, if replicated in more studies, should become standard practice in schools. However, very few teachers know about this technique and school curricula are not designed to be taught this way. Changing the educational establishment is probably too much to hope for. But this strategy can be used by all students in homework study. Home schoolers and students taking Internet courses can easily use the technique on their own.

If you try this approach, please add comments to this post to let us know how it works for you.


Kelley, P. and Whatson, T. (2013). Making long-term memories in minutes: a spaced learning pattern from memory research in education. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 25 September. Doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00589.

Klemm, W. R. (2012). Memory Power 101. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.

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