At Retenda, we have long known the power of the spacing effect to dramatically improve retention and recall. This effect first discovered over a century ago, describes the observation that humans and animals are able to remember things more effectively if learning is distributed over a long period of time rather than performed all at once. This new research conducted on mice from Japan (The Journal of Neuroscience. 31(24), 8958 – 8966) appears to uncover some of the neurological mechanisms that underpin it. Their results suggest that protein synthesis in the cerebellum plays a key role in memory consolidation.
The researchers developed a technique based around the phenomenon of horizontal optokinetic response (HOKR), a compensatory eye movement which can be used to quantify the effects of motor learning. Studying HOKR in mice, they found that the long-term effects of learning are strongly dependent on whether training is performed all at once (“massed training”), or in spaced intervals (“spaced training”): whereas gains incurred in massed training disappeared within 24 hours, those gained in spaced training were sustained longer.
By using antibiotics which inhibit protein synthesis it was found these proteins produced during training play a crucial role in the formation of long term memories. While further studies are clearly needed, not least in human subjects, it does appear that we ignoring the spacing effect in our training and learning design severely impairs the effectiveness of learning transfer. In a time of economic and social uncertainty, we should be making sure our education and training practices are as potent as possible. The relatively simple integration of spaced exposure and practice will make a big difference at a relatively modest cost.