Five ways to help your learners space out

We've all been guilty of pre-exam cramming sessions. On more occasions than we’d like to admit, we stayed up all night before a final exam to stuff every last bit of learning we could into our little brains. Perhaps you did that once or twice yourself. How much did you actually retain from said session? Enough to ace the test, I’m sure. But did you actually walk away from the experience with any lasting knowledge?

The spacing effect tells us it’s much better to study for that exam not in one intense burst but rather in sessions that are spread out over time.

So how do you do that in the e-learning arena? This week, we’ll suggest five simple ways to help your learners space out for more effective results.

1. Think in smaller bits

Instead of creating one 45-minute course, break it up into three 15-minute chunks. At the beginning of each chunk, review what was covered in the last session. Repetition helps, so repeat early and often. Encourage the learner to take each section one or two weeks apart.  If you can, have your LMS do the scheduling part for you.

2. Create short refresher courses

Create a short – and we mean short! – follow-up mini-course that hits all the key points. Pull some memorable images from the original e-learning piece to trigger memories of any potent scenarios or characters you may have used.

3. Follow up with practice exercises

Instead of creating a follow-up course, how about a follow-up exercise? Give the learner the opportunity to work through another example as a way of providing repetition and reinforcement.

4. Send 'content ticklers'

Send out short follow-up emails, reminding the learner of key points. Send an email one week after they finish, then three weeks and so on. You just might reactivate some important point.

5. Make use of other tools

Think outside of the course. Create a blog on the subject matter. Use Twitter or Yammer to send out little snippets or tips. Generate a topic-related newsletter (I’m sure people still do those, right? In our early training days, we created a weekly newsletter for a software product roll-out that included tips and reminders). Make a poster. The point is, keep the topic alive and well with your learners.

To learn more about the spacing effect, be sure to read up over at Dr. Will Thalheimer’s site.  Will does a great job of taking current research and explaining it clearly so you can put it to practice. One presentation we particularly like 'Spacing Learning Over Time: A Research-Based Secret'.