Promoting lasting learning by combining spacing with worked examples

Distributing a learning phase across multiple sessions (i.e., spacing) instead of having only one massed learning phase seems to promote long-term retention. Although this effect has often been demonstrated in laboratory studies involving rather simple material, the results are less robust in real-life learning contexts that involve more complex material. For example, Barzagar Nazari and Ebersbach (2019) found no spacing effect in third graders who had practiced an arithmetic procedure over six weeks and then tested. One explanation for this finding is that more complex learning content might require a deeper elaboration to evoke a robust spacing effect.
The main aim of the current research project is to test in the context of the regular mathematics curriculum in school whether combining spacing with worked examples robustly boosts the spacing effect and promotes lasting learning. Providing learners with worked examples, that is, with examples that illustrate the single solution steps for a problem, is expected to evoke a deeper elaboration of the procedure in terms of how, why, and when it works. We assume that spaced practice phases that include worked examples—compared to massing the practice phase and pure problem solving—have the largest benefit for learners’ long-term retention of procedural and conceptual knowledge.

Keywords: lasting learning; spacing effect; worked examples; learning in school; desirable difficulties

Barzagar Nazari, K., & Ebersbach, M. (2019). Distributing mathematical practice of third and seventh graders: Ap-plicability of the spacing effect in the classroom. Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, 33(2), 288–298.

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Ebersbach, M., Lachner, A., Scheiter, K., & Richter, T. (2022). Using spacing to promote lasting learning in educational contexts: Promises and challenges. Zeitschrift für Entwicklungspsychologie und Pädagogische Psychologie/German Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology, 54(4),151–163. (open access)