Retrieval-, Distributed-, and Interleaved Practice in the Classroom: A Systematic Review

S.K. Ruitenburg*, G. Camp, H.M. Jarodzka, P.A. Kirschner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic

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Three of the most effective learning strategies identified are retrieval practice, distributed practice, and interleaved practice, also referred to as desirable difficulties. However, it is yet unknown to what extent these three practices foster learning in primary and secondary education classrooms (as opposed to the laboratory and/or tertiary education classrooms, where most research is conducted) and whether these strategies affect different students differently. To address these gaps, we conducted a systematic review. Initial and detailed screening of 869 documents found in a threefold search resulted in a pool of 29 journal articles published from 2006 through June 2020. Seventy-five effect sizes nested in 47 experiments nested in 29 documents were included in the review. Retrieval- and interleaved practice appeared to benefit students’ learning outcomes quite consistently; distributed practice less so. Furthermore, only cognitive Student*Task characteristics (i.e., features of the student’s cognition regarding the task, such as initial success) appeared to be significant moderators. We conclude that future research further conceptualising and operationalising initial effort is required, as is a differentiated approach to implementing desirable difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2021
EventEARLI 2021 - Online, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 23 Aug 202127 Aug 2021
Conference number: 19


ConferenceEARLI 2021
Internet address


  • Learning Approaches
  • Primary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Student Learning


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