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Overlearning is a pedagogical concept according to which newly acquired skills should be practiced well beyond the point of initial mastery, leading to automaticity. Once one has overlearned a task, one's skill level is higher than the challenge level for that task (see Control region in the graph).[1] The Yerkes–Dodson law predicts that overlearning can improve performance in states of high arousal.[2]

Rohrer et al. define overlearning as “the immediate continuation of practice beyond the criterion of one perfect instance." Past research has referred to overlearning as an effective means of moving information learned “from short-term memory to long-term memory." [How to reference and link to summary or text] Overlearning has also been found to ensure “long-term retention” and “leads to greater recall," however these benefits have not been consistently found to be “long-lasting." [How to reference and link to summary or text] Rohrer et al., noted that the results of their study found that the benefits of overlearning in recall performance “dissipated within several weeks." These findings are supported by Driskell et. al, who found that “the benefits of overlearning may dissipate at longer retention intervals." These results demonstrate that overlearning “may be advisable in certain instances,” such as “for learners who seek only short-term retention." To enhance long-term retention, one could employ the use of “distributed practice”, which spaces out post-criterion practice “across multiple sessions, rather than concentrating it all into one session” [3] .

Overlearning has been found to “boost subsequent test performance” [4] and thus these strategies are used “frequently in education and training” [3] programs to allow students to retain large amounts of information in a short period of time that will be used shortly after.

Analyzing overlearning

There are two procedures used to analyze overlearning, the “duration-based procedure” and the “criterion-based procedure." The duration-based procedure manipulates “the number of learning trials for each degree of learning,” while criterion-based involves “participants studying or practicing until they reach a criterion of one perfect trial before stopping or continuing." The duration-based appears to be more popular in overlearning studies than is the criterion-based [3] .

Further research

Studies done on overlearning have not explored in depth the benefits of the method on mathematics, as most research has been done using verbal memory tasks. Rohrer and Taylor studied the “retention of mathematics knowledge” and concluded that “distributed practice” resulted in “retention of mathematics” and overlearning did not [4] . Further research in the subject of mathematics needs to be done.

See also


  1. Csikszentmihalyi, M., Finding Flow, 1997
  2. Long, Martyn (2000). The Psychology of Education, Routledge.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Rohrer, Doug, Kelli Taylor, Harold Pashler, John T. Wixted and Nicholas J. Cepeda (2005). The Effect of Overlearning on Long-Term Retention. Applied Cognitive Psychology 19: 361-374.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rohrer, Doug, Kelli Taylor (2006). The Effects of Overlapping and Distributed Practise on the Retention of Mathematics Knowledge. Applied Cognitive Psychology 20: 1209-1224.

Further reading

  • Mandler, G. (1962). From association to structure. Psychological Review, 69, 415‑427.

External links

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