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Distributed Learning: How to Remember 2x More Without Studying Harder or Longer

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Overview - What Will You Get In This Post?

  • What is “distributed learning”.

  • Why it matters.

  • How you can apply it to your life (with action steps).

In this part of the series, there’s just one idea to boost our learning speed, but it’s a really powerful one.


What’s the idea?

Distributed learning is a concept explored by Benedict Carey in his book How We Learn. It relates to the fact that you brain learns better by spacing out your study sessions.

Your brain needs time to process and consolidate the information into long-term memory. There are biological thresholds on how much they can learn in one study session (or in a day).

Instead of trying to cram everything one day before the exam (and/or on the day of), it’s immensely better, from a neurological perspective, to distribute your study load in multiple days.

Said differently, it’s better to have multiple small “study chunks” than just a big one.

It literally doubles the amount you remember, but you won’t necessarily be studying any harder or longer.

Just distributedly.

It is a simple shift with exponential impact.

Why Does It Matter?

In How We Learn, Benedict Carey tells us:

“People learn at least as much, and retain it much longer, when they distribute—or ‘space’—their study time than when they concentrate it. Mom’s right, it is better to do a little today and a little tomorrow rather than everything at once. Not just better, [but] a lot better.

Distributed learning ... can double the amount we remember later on. … [And] you’re not spending any more time. You’re not working any harder. But you [will] remember [it] for longer.”

In How To Become a Straight-A Student, Cal Newport tells us:

“Memorization is particularly dependent on your available mental energy. It doesn’t work if you try to commit items to memory for eight hours straight, but it does work if you memorize only an hour at a time and only one or two hours a day ... Spread the work out over many days, and never dedicate too much time to any one sitting with your flash cards.”

So, if we want to learn our material as effortlessly and as fast as we can, spacing out our studying over a couples of days is essential.

It’s better to choose one hour each day for five days, than five hours in one day (normally before the exam).

The amount of work is the same, the amount of time is the same. But we will get better results and be less stressed by choosing the first option.

Action Step:

With that in mind, next time you have an exam (or quiz), plan to start studying at least 2-3 days in advance.

If you want even better results (or if the class is hard), start 4-7 days before, even if it’s just 30 minutes in the beginning.

To do it, ask yourself:

  • How can I best distribute my studying, and how will my schedule look like?

Start small (so you don’t procrastinate) and stick to your schedule.

Remember, it’ll make it easier to learn things and you’ll get less stressed in the process.

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