Timing Is in Order: Modeling Order Effects in the Learning of Information


Simple memorization of information, because it does not have the complexity of more conceptual learning, provides a paradigm for investigating how primitive memory processes may underlie order effects in higher-level tasks. For instance, the superiority of distributed vs. massed practice implies an order effect because it suggests that any learning that has a repetitive memory component must be spaced widely to maximize retention. This chapter examines this effect and discusses recent research in which a mathematical model of both learning and forgetting was applied to optimizing the learning of facts. The model explains why it is always important to consider forgetting functions as well as learning curves for any learning procedure. One important implication of this model is that while learning per trial is generally greater with wider spacing, the increased time necessary to complete widely spaced practices means that it is difficult to fully apply in practice. These results suggest that investigations of order effects in the learning of more complex domains must consider the spacing of practice to the extent that there is a repetitive memory component to the task.

Publication Title

In Order to Learn: How the sequence of topics influences learning