6 Tips To Develop Spaced eLearning Courses

6 Tips To Develop Spaced eLearning Courses
Summary: The brain has its boundaries, particularly when it comes to memory and knowledge retention. However, eLearning professionals can outsmart the forgetting curve and improve comprehension with the help of spaced repetition. In this article, I'll discuss the basic principles of the Spaced Learning theory, as well as 6 tips on how to apply it in your eLearning course design, creating ... Spaced eLearning.

How To Develop Spaced eLearning Courses

Spaced learning is attributed to Paul Kelley and is rooted in the "temporal pattern of stimuli" introduced by R. Douglas Fields in 2005 [1]. The theory suggests that short bursts of learning spread out over time can prevent cognitive overload and improve memory. Typically, the learning activities are repeated on three separate sessions, interspersed with 10-minute mental breaks. During these breaks learners participate in "distractor" exercises that take their minds off the subject matter before the next round.

Spaced Learning And Knowledge Retention

The Spaced Learning theory relies heavily on the "Forgetting Curve", which was introduced by Hermann Ebbinghaus back in 1885, which states that information is forgotten over a period of time if it is not reinforced. If individuals do not recall, apply, and reinforce what they've learned, it will gradually be erased from their memory banks. Kelley's Spaced Learning theory suggests that revisiting the subject matter periodically can help beat the forgetting curve.

As a result, online learners are able to retain more knowledge over a longer time span, especially when they need it the most. For example, if they need to perform a specific work task, they can call upon their pre-existing knowledge to increase productivity. They know that they have the skills and information that are required, thanks to the fact that they've practiced the task on numerous occasions. Instead of struggling through it, the process has become a second nature to them.

Applying The Spaced Learning Theory In eLearning

Here are 6 tips that are based on the Spaced Learning theory's core principles which eLearning professionals can use to improve knowledge retention and recall in their eLearning course design.

1. Incorporate Active Recall Into Your eLearning Strategy

One of the cornerstones of the Spaced Learning approach is active recall. As its name implies, this requires actively applying the acquired knowledge and putting it into practice. For example, instead of simply reading a summary, online learners participate in an eLearning scenario or simulation related to the subject matter. This also allows them to see how the knowledge can be used in the real world, which further enhances memory and retention. Asking a thought provoking question or posing a problem are prime examples of active recall that can improve knowledge retention. Rather than passively listening to ideas, online learners must actively engage with the eLearning content.

2. Use Different eLearning Presentation Methods

Repetition is essential, but it's the type of repetition that counts. Avoid using the same eLearning presentation methods repeatedly to convey the information. Use a broad range of eLearning activities, modules, and multimedia to give your online learners the knowledge they need. For example, create eLearning videos, simulations and audio presentations to teach a particular task. This not only helps to prevent online learner boredom, but appeals to a wide range of learning types. More importantly, online learners are able to revisit the information in different situations and settings, which allows them to apply it in different ways.

3. Determine The Ideal Time Intervals

The formula for Spaced eLearning is 3 eLearning sessions interspersed with 2 ten-minute breaks covering other learning objectives before returning to the initial topic. In fact, this is usually the best eLearning approach for more complex ideas or topics, as it gives online learners a chance to fully absorb the information before the next eLearning exercise.

4. Integrate Study Breaks Into The Schedule

Regardless of what subject matter you are teaching, you need to incorporate regular breaks into your eLearning course schedule to follow the Spaced Learning approach. These breaks give your online learners the time they need to commit the information to memory and reflect on the topic. They can also gauge how they would apply the knowledge in the real world, as well as increase their comprehension and understanding of the main ideas. If your eLearning course is asynchronous, be sure to include alternative eLearning activities as breaks in the online lessons themselves so that online learners must pause periodically. Otherwise, certain online learners may try to rush through the eLearning course before they've assimilated the information.

5. Create Associations With Pre-existing Knowledge

Linking new ideas to pre-existing knowledge strengthens mental schema and allows online learners to group related concepts together. In other words, it gives them the chance to acquire new knowledge without having to work as hard. Whenever possible, make associations between what they've already learned and the current subject matter. For example, integrate a real world story that ties into a topic you've already covered, making sure that you show the underlying connections between the two ideas. This approach also allows online learners to assign meaning to the eLearning content and determine its true value.

6. Create A Multi-Sensory eLearning Experience

Memorable eLearning experiences appeal to all of the senses and foster an emotional connection. Develop eLearning activities that incorporate touch, sight, and sound, such as eLearning simulations and serious games for mobile devices. Online learners must tap on the screen to make their selections (touch), listen to background music and dialogue (sound), and watch images or eLearning videos on the screen (sight). Many eLearning authoring tools now feature impressive asset libraries where you can find online interactions and multimedia, like cutouts, animations, and music.

Spaced eLearning gives your online learners the opportunity to absorb and assimilate the information before progressing to the next eLearning activity. As an added bonus, online learners are able to decrease their stress levels and avoid cognitive overwhelm, which makes the eLearning experience more effective and enjoyable.

Microlearning and spaced repetition go hand-in-hand. Read the article 7 Tips To Create Memorable Microlearning Online Training to learn how to create memorable microlearning content for your online training program.


  1. R.Douglas Fields (February 2005), Making Memories Stick, Scientific American, pp. 58–63.