Mechanisms Underlying the Spacing Effect in Learning: A Comparison of Three Computational Models

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The spacing effect is one of the most widely replicated results in experimental psychology: Separating practice repetitions by a delay slows learning but enhances retention. The current study tested the suitability of the underlying, explanatory mechanism in three computational models of the spacing effect. The relearning of forgotten material was measured, as the models differ in their predictions of how the initial study conditions should affect relearning. Participants learned Japanese–English paired associates presented in a massed or spaced manner during an acquisition phase. They were tested on the pairs after retention intervals ranging from 1 to 21 days. Corrective feedback was given during retention tests to enable relearning. The results of 2 experiments showed that spacing slowed learning during the acquisition phase, increased retention at the start of tests, and accelerated relearning during tests. Of the 3 models, only 1, the predictive performance equation (PPE), was consistent with the finding of spacing-accelerated relearning. The implications of these results for learning theory and educational practice are discussed.

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