Kicking Off: What is Learning Science?

Kicking Off: What is Learning Science?

Achievable is built on learning science. But what does that mean, exactly? What is learning science? And specifically, what is spaced repetition – the type of learning science that Achievable is built specifically to leverage?

What is learning science?
Learning science is a field that furthers the scientific understanding of the nature of learning, including creating innovation and technology to support advances in learning processes.  It is a multi-disciplinary field that ties together cognitive psychology, educational psychology, and computer science with social and cultural cues and the setup of the learning environment.

What is spaced repetition?  How is it different than normal studying?
Spaced repetition is a technique for learning large amounts of information efficiently. Spaced repetition breaks information into small pieces and feeds them to you one at a time, over a span of time, with increasing duration between repetitions as you progress.

For centuries, cognitive psychology has observed the spacing effect in helping with learning. More recently, computer programs have been able to leverage this phenomenon to help students absorb information better.

Most studying that you’d remember from school is what’s referred to as “massed learning,” which is cramming large amounts of information in one prolonged study session or a few lengthy sessions.

Studies show that spaced repetition leads to better memory retention and understanding of the material than massed learning.  However, people generally don’t believe this because they’ve been studying with massed learning their whole lives. And to be fair, massed learning doesn’t do nothing – it’s just less effective. But this bias is strong enough that most people are under the illusion that massing results in better learning even when their test scores show that spacing is better ( Son & Simon in 2012 and Mulligan & Peterson in 2014).

Intense studying: it’s a marathon, not a sprint
We have all seen the TV show Jeopardy and the super-contestants that always seem to have the answer to everything. As it turns out, many of these contestants use spaced repetition methods to prepare. Roger Craig set the record for highest single-day winnings on Jeopardy after using spaced repetition techniques to memorize an amazing assortment of knowledge. Arthur Chu used a similar strategy and set an impressive earnings record on the show in 2014.

Cramming information can help in the short term, but in order to retain that knowledge for the long term, memories must be exercised and reinforced. A major test may require hundreds of hours of preparation and there’s no way to fit this into a single day. One experience reminded me about this recently:  I had to study for an exam involving 600 possible questions – and the only study tool available was a textbook. I sat down and started cramming, naturally. By the time I read through to the end of the study book (a few study sessions and a few days later), I had already forgotten what was at the beginning.

Spaced repetition provides superior results by repeating the exposure when a student is at the optimal point to either remember or forget. As the student remembers successfully, he/she remembers that piece of information longer with each repetition. This was tough to do by hand, but computers automate the scheduling of information and tracking of statistics to make it much easier.

Better learning with active recall
Another important concept of the latest in learning science is the use of active recall, in which a student must recall the information instead of simply reading over it again. A 2008 study by Karpicke and Roediger showed that performing information retrieval was very important for learning. While creating self-quizzes continually can be cumbersome with only a pencil and paper, computer programs can help greatly in quizzing students periodically while they learn.  Learning systems built around spaced repetition and active recall are poised to build and reinforce memories efficiently.

How Achievable leverages spaced rehearsal
Achievable was built to leverage spaced repetition to help students prepare for the Series 7 exam. We broke the Series 7 into 2,100 learning items, and as students study them the program keeps track of each student’s progress. Based on that, we create a personalized study schedule for each item to ensure it is reviewed at at appropriate intervals. The advantage of this is that students strengthen knowledge continuously rather than losing old concepts as new ones come into focus.  And we use active recall to further solidify memories through periodic quizzes along the automated learning schedule.  All told, our goal is to leverage these key concepts of learning science to make Achievable a highly effective study tool for the Series 7.

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