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The power of Successive Relearning

The benefits of Successive Relearning

3 min read
  • Retrieval Practice
  • Spacing & Interleaving
  • The science of learning

A plethora of research has displayed Retrieval Practice and Spacing as two of the most effective learning strategies for improving students’ memory recall.

But what happens if we do both together? Is each strategy more effective on its own or joined together? Their combination is known as Successive Relearning – and recent research on it has indicated that their combined benefits provide great value in helping students efficiently obtain and maintain knowledge.

What is Successive Relearning?

Successive Relearning involves the combination of two effective learning techniques: Retrieval Practice and Spacing. Broadly speaking, it looks like practising a target task until you are successful, then practising it again over spaced practice sessions until you succeed again in each session.

This study technique helps ensure students bring essential information back to the forefront of their memory again and again, as otherwise they will forget much of what they learn between study sessions.

What does research say about Successive Relearning?

A recent study which investigated its effects on academic performance found that participants who learned new information using Successive Relearning recalled 10% more of it than the control group who used their own study strategies when tested a few days later.

It also found that this capacity to recall was long lasting: where the control group struggled to define the concepts 3 days after the test, those in the Successive Relearning group still remembered them 24 days later.

So if Successive Relearning can help your students remember more for longer, how does it actually work?

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3 ways to implement Successive Relearning

Here are three ways to help your students implement Successive Relearning so they can benefit from its potent effects on learning…

1. Rule of three 

The life of a student is a busy life – they don’t have the luxury to waste time, which makes choosing learning strategies that are both efficient and effective essential.

In the case of Successive Relearning, research has found that completing four or more relearning sessions doesn’t offer a knowledge retention advantage over three sessions. So, to make sure they’re spending precious revision time well, your students should probably bare this in mind.

2. Create a study schedule

Students often resort to cramming because they are not organised with their time. To make sure students practise Successive Relearning in their revision, encourage them to create a spaced study schedule. This is not an easy task, so make sure to provide students with guidance and support.

For example, you can ask your students to create flashcards and provide them with a homework schedule detailing when they should study them. To ensure Successive Relearning, students should reflect and check if they answered the flashcards correctly or not. If the answer is incorrect, they should make note of it and return to it later in the study session.

3. Use the Cornell Note Taking Method 

The Cornell Note Taking Method gets students to divide their notes sheet in three sections: one for notes, one for key terms and questions, and one for a summary of the new information they learned. Not only does filling out this last section allow students to practise retrieval in and of itself; the key terms section acts as a great list of information to practise in Successive Relearning.

Students can refer back to their note sheet throughout the semester to practise relearning the key terms until they are successful in all retrieval attempts. This enhances their memory recall every time.

Final thoughts

Spacing and Retrieval Practice have both been shown to be effective learning strategies on their own. However, new research suggests that students can benefit even more from the combination of the two together.

We hope that by using these tips, you can encourage your students to engage in Successive Relearning so they can consolidate important information and get the most out of their learning.