Memory Paper: Distributed vs. Massed Practice

Distributed vs. Massed Practice

As a fundamental aspect of psychology, memory is the basis for practically all cognitive functions of the human brain. Therefore, the studies of the functional memory systems are closely interconnected with effective learning and the ability of individuals to apply the obtained skills in the future. Based on the memory system’s functions, scholars have identified two major types of practice that may be applied in learning: distributed and mass practice. Researchers have diverse views on the effectiveness of these practices. However, a thorough weighing of all pros and cons shows that students aiming to improve their learning should primarily use distributed practice. The current paper relies on the available scholarly evidences and experimental data to prove that distributed practice is more effective than mass practice because it ensures a more conscious approach to learning, properly motivates students, and allows them to learn the skills of various levels of complexity.

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A number of studies support the position that distributed practice is more effective in studying. Benjamin and Tullis (2010) argue that the distribution of practices or opportunities is an effective approach in memory studies. According to the Stimulus Sampling Theory, the human brain and memory accept repeated materials more effectively than information that has been studied only once. When a stimulus reminds a student of a certain episode, the retrieval of that episode intensifies memory and the process of recollection (Benjamin & Tullis, 2010). Therefore, distributed practice, which provides breaks between activities, allows an individual to perceive the learning processes as those that create the mechanism of the twice-studied material and ensure better memorizing (Benjamin & Tullis, 2010). The same study refers to the reminding theory to show that the value of distributed practice also lies in the balance it provides to the probability and value of reminding. As a result, the association relations are activated together with the repetitive ones to ensure a better understanding and problem solving skills of learners (Benjamin & Tullis, 2010).

Distributed practice ensures a better conceptual understanding of the studied material. In fact, it contributes to the understanding of the causal relations between concepts and ensures the conscious perception of the material. As a result, the material is memorized for a longer period than when it is learnt by heart. Such understanding depends on the coherent knowledge structures (Budé, Imbos, Van de Wiel, & Berger, 2011). The experimental study by Budé, Imbos, Van de Wiel, and Berger (2011) presents evidence that supports the aforementioned statement. According to the research, the reduction of distributed practice decreased students’ understanding of the material and led to errors in their knowledge structures related to statistics courses.

Distributed practice is better than massed practice not only in intellectual courses but also in sports and music. Simmons (2011) pays attention to the fact that longer intervals between sessions enhance a person’s procedural memory. In particular, the training of musicians shows that performance accuracy of the musical skills is explained based on the memory consolidation theory. Being responsible for motor skills encoding, refining, or forgetting, the consolidation process ensures better storage and awakening of information when using multiple practice sessions.

One more factor that contributes to the efficiency of distributed practice is time. Within limited time frames, an educator who trains a group of individuals must use distributed practice to let students train various skills instead of focusing on only one repeated action. Murray and Udermann (2003) demonstrate the effectiveness of distributed practice by means of a soccer training for 30 students. The researchers showed that the advantages of distributed practice in such a case are obvious, as this practice allows students to involve various skills during a definite period of training instead of concentrating on only one skill. Therefore, mass practice should be used for discrete tasks, and it is not appropriate for the long-term continuous training.

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In all cases, the teaching of motor skills must include the stages of drill, rehearsal, and practice (Murray & Udermann, 2003). In fact, both massed and distributed practices have these phases. The major difference between the two is that massed practice provides practically no rest between practice trials. Consequently, the defenders of massed practice defend their position by stating that regular repetition is the best way to reinforce the technique (Murray & Udermann, 2003). However, it is wrong from a psychological perspective, especially considering a person’s motivation. Even though small breaks or pauses during the process of studying may appear even in massed practice, their short duration does not allow learners to get completely distracted from learning, and they still get bored and fatigued. As a result, it is too difficult for a learner to remain motivated and concentrated on the process due to the mental and physical fatigue (Murray & Udermann, 2003).

In conclusion, distributed practice ensures better learning and memorization of motor skills as well as intellectual material through repeated actions and sufficient rest periods. Mainly due to multiple training sessions and longer rest periods, this practice is beneficial for the functional and structural reorganization of the brain. This practice is quite effective in sports, music, and statistical training. Moreover, it ensures a more conscious approach to certain actions by providing a better conceptual understanding of the material and higher motivation to learning without the mental or physical fatigue that commonly characterizes massed practice.

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