Students score higher on tests when lectures include breaks, study suggests

Spaced learning may be more effective than traditional instruction and self-directed education

Students may absorb information best when it is presented in short bursts of instruction, according to a study conducted at the University of Surrey Business School in England.

Paul Kelley, an honorary research associate at Oxford University, led a study to research the concept of spaced learning, or instruction punctuated by short breaks.

The study divided 600 business students into three groups. While students covered the same material for a module on advertising, each group approached the information differently. One group learned from traditional lectures and seminars, the second group directed their own learning, and the third group engaged in spaced learning.

The spaced learning group took part in an hour-long lecture punctuated by 10-minute breaks. During these breaks, students completed tasks unrelated to the lecture.

After a week, students took a three-part test to determine what they learned and whether they could successfully apply it and extend it to material not covered in the course.

Spaced learners scored higher than the other groups on every part of the test. They remembered 20% more than students who took part in traditional lectures in seminars and 23% more than students who self-directed their learning. Spaced learners also scored 13% higher than traditional learners and 19% higher than self-directed learners on applying their knowledge. Finally, spaced learners scored 10% higher than traditional learners and 15% higher than self-directed learners on extending the material to other situations.

Blended learning and flipped classrooms

The results indicate that spaced learning may be better than traditional methods in helping students understand key concepts, says professor Andy Adcroft, head of Surrey Business School. While he is not completely sold on the findings, he does believe that spaced learning could be used in tandem with traditional instruction methods (Morrison, Forbes, 5/30).

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