Ineffectiveness in the approach taken by traditional language learning schools


Evidence continues to build on the systemic ineffectiveness of the approach taken by traditional language learning schools. In a recent article published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Paul Kelley and Terry Whatson present strong evidence for the superiority of spaced learning patterns for learning. For the full article, see

In their work, they found daily learning of three 20-minute periods with 10-minute periods of rest was far superior to one-hour learning sessions. In their conclusion, Kelley and Whatson concluded, “The data suggest Spaced Learning is more efficient in comparison to standard teaching. There was a highly significant difference between teaching and Spaced Learning as measured by high-stakes test scores percentage increase per hour of instruction and in the duration of the instructional process taken to achieve similar test results. This has clear parallels in neuroscience studies showing very rapid memory processes in humans, and indicates both the spacing pattern used for LTP (Long-Term Potentiation) /LTM (Long-Term Memory) creation and the one hour duration of instruction were effective. The manipulation of time as a key variable in learning here reflects neuroscience evidence on time scales in memory processes rather than educational time scales (Tetzlaff et al., 2012). This is just further evidence of how the once-a-week classes are simply not going to survive alone in the long-term. There is too little benefit at high cost. Instead, hybrid learning that combines frequent learning and feedback using technology with teacher empowered with detailed student data will be the future. Let technology do some heavy lifting to empower teachers.

In Psychology Today, Professor William Klemm of Texas A&M University summarized the work of Kelley and Whatson as follows: “The idea begins with the established notion that a given learning task should be “chunked” so that it can be studied in a short time, on the order say of 20 minutes. What is novel about the new design is that a given chunk is studied three times in a single session, with two intervening “rest” periods of 10 minutes in which there is little mental activity. During the rest periods, physical activity, like shooting hoops or cycling, seem to be ideal. The reason for these intervening rest periods is that thinking about new information or performing mental tasks creates interference with the memory-forming processes already under way.”

“Of course, like most learning tasks, a single session, even with three repetitions within it, is not likely to be sufficient unless you are really adept at mnemonic techniques (Klemm, 2012). After a day or so, this strategy needs to be repeated one or more times.”

“This is so simple to do and, if replicated in more studies, should become standard practice in schools.”

This additional evidence is great news for students as it will ultimately persuade all parties to improve learning processes, which can only be good for the students, who will get better results with less time and lower costs.


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