For a long period, most of the researchers have been putting more emphasis on distribution practice due to its contribution to motor learning. The main focus was the time set for rest during training so that an optimum environment for learning can be created. The researchers, therefore, came into a conclusion that distributed practice is more efficient compared to massed practice. Massed practice is featured by more active time or more time working with little rest. Schwartz described the massed practice as that which occurs "in one block." Distributed practice is characterized by the same working time exhibited in massed practice but with many sessions. The sessions in massed practice are longer than those in distributed practice (Carpenter et al., 2012). A similar quantity of study results showed better learning when it was carried out at different periods that are short instead of more extended periods and therefore, distributed practice will elicit better learning than massed practice since it is spaced.
The distributed practice has an advantage to learning due to its spacing effect. Research by cognitive scientists has discovered that for learning to occur for long-term and the memory to retain the information, distributed practice will significantly induce it. Despite giving similar time to spend on practice, learning for the long term will only occur effectively in the spaced compared to the massed practice. The spacing effect, however, means that the advantage arises when only the same information not different information is reviewed.
Several theories explain the advantages of distributed practice. According to Francisco (2015), study-phase retrieval theory, once one gets into contact with an idea during the review, the memory tends to retrieve the information, and if the process of recovering becomes successful, there is high resistance of the mind to forgetting. The ability of the brain to receive the data makes it possible for the information to be engrained and the retrieval process becomes more natural in the memory. In this case, the brain develops a regularity of consistently retrieving data from memory. The gaps created between the times of recovering an idea from memory are beneficial to the mind. On the other hand, massed practice does not encourage retrieval of information from the memory since it already exists in the memory and the memory remembers the information only once. For example, when a specific word appears two times in a list, the learner can recall the first presentation as a result of the second presentation. In this scenario, the learner's thoughts will be on the first presentation and in this way the learner has retrieved it making it more memorable.
Contextual variability is another reason why distributed practice is better than massed practice. Encoding of ideas and information in the memory leads to the encoding of the context of the surrounding which is significant in helping retrieve the ideas and information. This means that learners remember what they studied as a result of other events that they reviewed. The process of encoding and the context of the situations differ according to time, and the far spaced events have the probability of being different than those that occur closely. The variations are due to the presence of the context elements whose association is with the stimulus that is to be remembered or elicited as consequences. The memory becomes more beneficial because the variabilities help to view the tests as general, and this is due to the methods used to retrieve information effectively. According to Benjamin & Tullis (2010), these benefits come from study opportunities being independent instead of being interdependent. Two theories nonmonotonicity and superadditivity are significant in explaining the impacts of creating association links in the memory and also impacts of repetition.
Consolidation theory is another explanation of why distributed practice is effective. This is a long term memory theory where memory resistance is believed to be high when a stimulus of two presentations was made. Memory improved as a result of spacing brought about by the introduction of the second stimulus that attained resistance from the first stimulus and this rose with time. The more the presentations are repeated, the higher it reduces the forgetting rate function.
Distributed practice's utility studies show learning in high order. For example, lessons that were distributed were able to increase the ability of children in elementary school's generalization in learning from constructing food chains to the making of biomes. Another example is in college students whereby the students who got distributed online assessments could incorporate the information acquired in their lecture in circumstances they encountered better than those whose assessment was massed. This, therefore, demonstrates that distributed practice has more benefits that are more than just improvement of memory.
The distributed practice has high retention levels of information. This means that the relearning process is saved. In most cases, one may not remember all ideas correctly at the beginning of a session review, but the process of relearning the items becomes quick. For example, if one studied any foreign language at the high school level, but they can't be able to speak the language fluently, they will be quick at grasping the language more easily than if the person was the first-time learner. Mastery of materials in the classroom and memorizing the laboratory items is as a result of distributed practice by the student, and therefore it is an important strategy to be used as a method of instruction is class. Distributed practice, thus, helps in enhancing memory by retaining information and ideas from books, unlike massed practice.
The distributed practice also has a wide range of generality. This means that the effects of distributed practice can be found in many different populations which include, children, infants, animals and elderly. The results are also contained in various distinct materials and most of the memory tests. Distributed practice is therefore essential compared to a massed practice whose variability is lower.
Deficient processing accounts is another explanation of why distributed practice is better than massed practice. When presentations are made, learners pay less attention to the presentation of the second idea in massed practice, but in spaced practice, it is accorded more attention. The complexity of the issue determines the time spent by a person on rehearsing a particular item. Overestimation of the ability to recall massed practice is a mistake most people do as they view massed items as more accessible to remember. The distributed practice receives much attention due to the unconscious and automatic process in the brain. This, therefore, is beneficial when subjected to populations such as those of infants of human beings.
In conclusion, distributed practice is more advantageous than massed practice. This is because, in the former, there is a high retention of items and is vital for educators and experimenters. The distributed practice also helps improve the results of learning. The distributed practice also aids in the recovery of information, enhances memory, gives feedback and also reduces the pressures of cramming like in the massed practice. The benefits that the memory gains from distributed practice research are one of the powerful impacts in the field of memory research. According to Murray & Underman (2003), the performance of the memory is high in distributed practice compared to massed practice.
Benjamin, A.S., & Tullis, J. (2010). What makes distributed practice effective? Cognitive psychology, 61(3), 228-247.
Carpenter, S.K., Cepeda, N.J., Rohrer, D., Kang, S.H., &Pashler, H. (2012). Using spacing to enhance diverse forms of learning: Review of recent research and implications for instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 369-378.
Francisco, A. (2015). Ask the cognitive scientist: Distributed practice.
Murray, S.R., & Underman, B.E (2003). Massed versus distributed practice: which is better. Cahperd journal, 1, 19-22.
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