Note: This is partly in response to Hugh Dellar’s claims about distributed, or spaced, practice, which I discuss in the post: Spaced Practice: Dellar’s view
In cognitive psychology, studies in various fields have shown that when studying factual information or practicing a particular skill like a golf swing or reversing a car, spaced practice gets better results than massed practice. It’s a big step from these results to the claim that spaced practice can have a transformative effect on learning a second or foreign language. Here are a few quotes from journals dealing with SLA and ELT.
1. Bird, S. (2010). Effects of distributed practice on the acquisition of L2 English syntax. Applied Psycholinguistics, 31, 635-650
The results showed that distributed practice led to superior test scores on the long-term tests, indicating that the learning of second language syntax can benefit from distributed practice …..
These improvements admittedly only pertain to subsets of the knowledge and cognitive skills required for tests measuring overall proficiency (e.g., overall communicative ability; Lapkin et al., 1998). As suggested by results of some language-learning studies, there remains the possibility that at the global proficiency level, language learning involves a degree of complexity that eliminates the benefit of distributed learning .
One related limitation of the present study that should be pointed out is that the tests measured the ability to detect and correct verb morphology in a context that enforced conscious attention to the verb forms. Full language proficiency, of course, depends on the ability to produce grammatically well-formed sentences at a discourse level spontaneously and correctly during real communication with little or no conscious attention to verb morphology. The present results do not warrant a conclusion that the grammatical distinctions have been “learned” in this more global sense of language learning.
2, Miles, S.W. (2014). Spaced vs. massed distribution instruction for L2 grammar learning. System, 42, 412-428.
Most research that has investigated the issue of time distribution in this manner has failed to find an advantage for spaced distribution learning. (see Serrano & Munoz, 2007; for an overview of these studies)……….
…… Donovan and Radosevich’s (1999) meta-analysis of 63 studies on the spacing effect, found that the effect sizes of studies were much smaller when the learning tasks involved a high degree of task complexity. Thus, while spaced distribution practice may have a strong effect on the learning of a relatively simple task such as memorizing a list of words, the effect is less dramatic on more cognitively demanding tasks such as puzzle solving or learning a skill involving the synthesis of a number of behaviors and choices. ……….
….. no conclusions can be drawn about massed vs. spaced distribution methodology employing other forms of grammatical practice such as communicative approaches to grammar instruction (e.g., focus on form) or implicit learning. Finally, while the results of the study suggest that the learning of specific grammatical structures may be benefited by spaced distribution practice, they do not give any reliable data on how spaced distribution may affect general skill development. It is possible that grammar learned through spaced distribution would fail to transfer to general speaking and writing skills.
3. Schuetze, U. (2015). Spacing techniques in second language vocabulary acquisition: Short-term gains vs. long-term memory. Language Teaching Research, 19, 28-42.
…. none of the differences regarding the retention rates comparing both groups directly were statistically significant.
The results give support to Schmitt’s (2010) observation that second language learners report having difficulties learning function words. For teaching and learning, it might be helpful to not just follow suggestions made in textbooks or language programs that group words by theme or grammatical category, but to pay attention to the underlying factors of processing a word, such as the division between content and function words.
4. Serrano, R.; Muñoz, C. (2007). Same hours, different time distribution: Any difference in EFL? System 35, 305-321.
Although our findings are still preliminary, they seem to suggest that concentrating second language instruction has a positive impact on the students’ acquisition of certain aspects of a particular language, as other studies have previously shown (Collins et al., 1999; Lightbown and Spada, 1994; Peters, 2000; Spada and Lightbown, 1989; White and Turner, 2005). The claim that intensive programs are more effective than extensive programs may indicate that, contrarily to what some cognitive psychology research studies have shown in the laboratory (Dempster, 1987; Glanzer and Duarte, 1971; Hintzman et al., 1973; Melton, 1970), massed practice can be more effective than distributed practice in classroom learning (Carroll, 1994; Rettig and Canady, 2001; Seamon, 2004), especially in the case of second/foreign languages.