3 Ways to Use Spaced Repetition in Training

In first grand we learned the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Spaced repetition in school allowed us to learn where they came from, why they came, and that they really landed on Cape Cod first

Albert Einstein said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” It is all those things you know, but you could not tell someone how or why you know it. If you think back to your school days and the lessons you learned you would find out that you did not learn as much as you think. You learned the same things over again in different grades. For example you learned about the Mayflower and Paul Revere’s ride in First Grade. When you in perhaps Fourth Grade, you spend another year learning American History but instead of the fairy tale version, you identified and learned what caused the pilgrims and patriots to act. When you studied American History again in middle school, you identified the consequences of the actions of key events and figures in history. In high school, you were asked to think critically about how history could have been different if historical people made different choices. Your learning about American History was spaced over time. Each time you added to what you previously learned. As an adult instructor or leader, find ways to introduce spaced repetition into your training. As a trainer you can build on earlier lessons whether the training event is a few hours or a few weeks.

As a trainer you have a responsibility to develop lessons that build on each other to reinforce earlier lessons and help students understand why skills and information taught earlier are important. Using spaced repetition is easier when your lessons occur over days or weeks. Spacing important learning points in a lesson that lasts only hours is more difficult but not impossible. Start by knowing the learning goals of your lesson. Here is a link to preparing learning goals: https://saintcyrtraining.com/2013/08/27/inspire-others-to-go-forth-and-do-good/.

After you identified the important learning goal of your lesson, you know what points to target for spaced repetition. Arrange your lessons so each learning goal is a logical building block. As you complete lessons for each learning goal, do a quick review to show how learning goals build on each other. Each review serves as a spaced repetition of early lessons.

Practical exercises allow students to use skills, ideas, and information learned earlier in the training to make connections and employ spaced repetition.

Another method to employ spaced repetition is to develop practical exercises that require students to use skills learned earlier. For example if you are teaching a group of students to navigate in the woods you would teach them how to read a map, how to use a compass, how to calculate ground distance, and how to calculate the difference between the magnetic and map north readings. After teaching the lesson on distance, you give the students an azimuth and direct them to move along that azimuth for a certain distance. This activity requires them to use the compass and practice the skill of determining distance while moving along the ground. In the final exercise you give them two points on a map to go and find on the ground. This exercise requires your students to read a map, use a compass, calculate the difference in north readings, and measure distance on a map and on the ground. Each exercise builds on earlier lessons and gives an additional repetition space over the course of the training event for each learning goal.

Training events occurring over a longer period of time allow instructors to create more space before each repetition improving retention. Begin each new session with a brief review of prior learning. Ask students to share how they applied what they learned in their lives. Ask for them to report on the results achieved. At the end of the session, ask the students questions to make connections with past lessons. Ask how implementing today’s lessons will improve results by adding the skills learned today to the skills they learned before.

Using spaced repetition during training sheds light on lessons.

Repeating information throughout a training event allows students to make connections to each learning goal. Students understand how each learning goal related to the others. Students improve their understanding of the overall main idea by making connections between learning goals. Spacing the repetition of the basic building blocks of the main idea reinforce those foundational lessons improving retention. Developing various exercises to support each learning goal allows the student to see, feel, hear, and understand the skill in practice by doing it. Spaced repetition is a great way to improve your students’ skills when they return to their world. They know, understand, and do what they were taught which is the objective of every training; changing behavior. Add spaced repetition to your training and watch the light bulbs illuminate in your students.

Photo Credits

  • 1620 by Robin Booker from pixabay.com using pixabay license
  • Map and compass by Hendrik Morkel from unsplash.com using unsplash license
  • Lightbulb by Fachy Marin from unsplash.com using unsplash license

Use the comment bubble at the top of the page to discuss this content.

Disruptive Students

Recently I was demonstrating the proper technique to accomplish a defensive tactic according to the organization that certified me to teach. During the demonstration, I talk through each step working slowly so that the students see the hold and understand the correct form. I have selected one of the students in class as an assistant. As I talk through the steps, the student pulls his hand out of my grip and laughs. I can only believe it is because he showed the teacher that his tactic doesn’t work, but his resistance is outside the parameters for application of this maneuver. I attempt to use this as a teaching moment explaining to the class that this is only one way to confront a potential adversary and is intended for use on one who appears compliant and follows directions. I start over. The demonstrator pulls away again. Repeat one more time. Now it is obvious my student is disrupting the class and interfering with the learning. Instructors and teachers often have to deal with disruptive students in a classroom environment. Strategies for dealing with these students are widely available in text books, journals, and internet sites. No one talks about the disruptive student in the practical exercise environment. Over the years I have had many disruptive students in practical activities session who have challenged me, my skills and my techniques. How the instructor handles the disruptive student establishes his future credibility. Handled well and students learn the instructor is knowledgeable and respectful and gains the attention and respect of the class. Handled poorly and the students learn the instructor is self-centered, egotistical and is just as likely to treat them with contempt if they fail to live up to his standards resulting in lack of attention or respect.


Attempting to address the misbehavior based on your perception of the student’s motivation you attract attention to the misbehavior and away from the lesson. Redirect the attention of all the students to the task at hand by acknowledging the slight and explain that this portion of the lesson is limited to the topic you are introducing. Use this as an opportunity to explain that there is more than one way to accomplish the task and this application has limitations that do not invalidate its use in the correct situation.

Keep your cool. I learned this rule the hard way. Anger about the student’s behavior manifests as a personal attack. Too often the anger results in the demonstration being completed at 100% force without proper preparation resulting in personal injury or property damage. Instead, stay calm, redirect the students attention, explain the parameters for the skill you are teaching and continue the lesson. A successful method is to change demonstrators.

Explain to the class as one instructor I watched. The instructor introduced information that was contrary to prior learning in another course. The instructor replied to the effect, “What I am teaching is a way to accomplish this task. It is not the only way.” Often when doing hands on work it is impossible to teach students the best options for every situation because the “What ifs” pile up in a hurry. Using the “A way” response validates the student’s position while maintaining your credibility.

Hands on training is an effective method to ensure students develop skills required to complete certain tasks. Unlike the lecture where the instructor controls the flow of information, during performance oriented training, students will often share what they know about the topic from prior experiences. Sometimes this is helpful, but often is is disruptive. Effectively keeping the class on topic builds your credibility as an instructor and subject matter expert. Validate the students point of view if valid in some cases if there is more than one way. Delineate the conditions for the task you are training. Keeping control of your emotions shows you are an expert deserving their continued attention and trust. When you follow these steps, you ensure students receive quality, consistent information, develop skills to accomplish the task in the given conditions to performance standards and increase the probability they will complete the task appropriately in a stress filled field environment.

Photo Credit:  U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Lily Daniels under Creative Commons License Share-alike and Attribution, Commander U.S. Navy 7th Fleet

2/1/14 I just posted a companion slide deck on SlideShare.  Check it out at http://www.slideshare.net/ChrisStCyr1/disruptedpractice

Practice, Practice the Practical Exercise

One of the joys of being Chief Instructor at a military school house is the time I shared with instructor trainees during their final presentations becoming qualified Army Instructors. During one memorable presentation, the student instructor engaged classmates with two practical exercises. The first allowed students to work in small groups discussing how to apply lessons learned upon returning to their units. In the second, students developed a presentation for their commanders for adoption of principals of this lesson in their units. Both effectively ingrained important points of the lesson by allowing the students integrate what they prior knowledge with newly acquired information to develop their own ideas and reinforced what the instructor taught. This presentation raised several questions including why instructors choose to lecture instead of facilitate, use presentation software instead of practical exercises and how can instructors develop effective exercises to reinforce learning points.

Inexperienced instructors often choose lecture based training because they have the knowledge the students need, lack the skills to develop training that is learner based. They feel more comfortable talking than showing. Developing lecture based training is easy and the least time consuming. Lectures ensure presentation of important information, adhere to time constraints and repeatedly provide the same information during every presentation. Unfortunately, most adults do not learn well with the lecture style and many will leave forgetting most of what was said, defeating the purpose of the training.

Slide decks have become the standard to accompany the lecture method. Pictures, text and video supposedly stimulate the learner’s verbal and auditory centers improving retention from lectures alone, but one phrase says it all, “Death by PowerPoint.” An unfortunate reality, PowerPoint and other presentation software alone fails to engage learners as a result, some organizations forbid use. When used well, they amplify important instruction points, but most of the time slide are used as a crutch. Plenty of books, blogs, articles, TED Talks, comedy skits and ,yes, PowerPoints have been created to improve presentations and truly Impress (an open source alternative to PowerPoint).

ImageDeveloping practical exercises requires genuine understanding of the concepts and principals supporting training, information and task steps. Understanding allows the instructor to identify the basic knowledge required to achieve success. Basic actions required to complete the task create the practical exercise the same way that learning goals are the basis for test questions. Often people are selected to provide organizational training because the have a history of providing great training or are the most educated on the topic within the organization. Lacking expert wisdom, the instructor parrots what he was taught, but their lack of understanding of the concepts and principals prevent development of practical exercises. Students are denied the opportunity to experiment and discover how to use the ideas to improve their performance.

Good practical exercises achieve several objectives for adult learners. They allow the a review of new information learned during class increasing retention. They require learners to integrate new knowledge with what they all ready know. They permit students to teach and learn from each other. They require back briefs allowing peers to learn from their challenges and successes. Each step is a repetition of the information provided in class. Each iteration, embeds knowledge and skills learned increasing the likelihood of desired change.

Lecturing and showing slides permit training to check boxes. Lectures poorly translate knowledge into desired behaviors. Practical exercises allow trainees to practice what they have been taught. They provide opportunities to repeat key points. Repetition increases recall and creates deeper understanding of the material. Creating practical exercises requires the instructor to understand the concepts and principals of the task being trained. Development requires greater time and effort by the instructor but payoffs include increased student understanding, performance and changed behavior on the job. Next time you conduct training, create and conduct at least one practical exercise.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I have prepared and posted a slide deck on SlideShare supporting this blog. 

I look forward to feedback.  Please take a moment to let me know how this blog has helped with your training and leadership activities.  I am also interested in know what other topics you are interested in reading.