Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Impact of Spacing of Practice on Learning Brand Name and Generic Drugs

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Impact of Spacing of Practice on Learning Brand Name and Generic Drugs

Article excerpt


Within a course, students may study material with the only opportunity to test themselves occurring on the examination. Alternatively, lower stakes quizzes provide greater learning opportunities before these higher stakes examinations. Despite the evidence that practice is an important part of learning, lessons or courses may not optimally use practice testing or spacing of practice.

Students must learn factual, foundational information so they can apply it in a clinical context, an example of which is brand and generic drug names. Because learning facts is important for higher order learning and critical thinking, there is continual research focused on methods to improve the long-term retention of material. One area of research is spaced practice.

Based on laboratory research, individuals who space their practice over time have greater long-term retention than those practicing all at once (ie, massed practice). (1-5) Spacing can be accomplished in various ways. The expanding schedule involves shorter initial intervals followed by longer intervals. The contracting practice schedule reverses this pattern by having longer initial intervals followed by shorter intervals. Finally, the equal spacing schedule uses uniform intervals. To date, there is no consensus regarding which schedule of practice is best under laboratory conditions. (6-11) In an authentic classroom setting, there is less information and agreement regarding the impact of spacing, particularly spacing schedules. (12-17) Most studies conducted in a classroom or simulated classroom focus on the spacing of practice versus massed practice, but not on schedules of spacing. Spacing of practice within the classroom has resulted in medium to large effect sizes. (12,17) The goal of this study is to investigate the impact of various spacing schedules of testing on learning brand and generic drug names in a self-paced course.

In general, students can space their study, restudy, and practice periods. This study focused specifically on test-type practice (ie, "testing effect" or retrieval practice). Retrieval practice produces greater learning and long-term retention than restudying material for an equivalent length of time. (18-20) Spaced retrieval practice works to enhance memory by balancing the success of retrieval (ie, correctly answering) and the difficulty of that retrieval. The sooner a retrieval is attempted, the greater the likelihood of a successful retrieval. (18) Although an easier retrieval may lead to an increased retrieval sucess, it has not shown any benefit for long-term retention. (21) In contrast, increasing retrieval difficulty due to longer spacing intervals leads to greater long-term retention benefits due to greater elaborative processing. (22,23) Finding the correct balance between retrieval difficulty and success rate is challenging. This study focused on successful retrieval through testing soon after study, and increasing retrieval difficulty by re-testing at longer spacing intervals.

The next question involves the type of test to administer. Multiple-choice testing offers cued retrieval and increases the likelihood of successful retrieval. This question type contrasts with open-ended questions, such as fill-in-the-blank, that require response generation and focus more on recall than recognition. (24,25) Past research have reported that more generative effects lead to a more powerful testing effect, but recent evidence suggest they can be equally efficacious. (13,15,16,26) The use of generative questions is important in this study as these questions more closely mimic the pharmacist role and require the correct spelling needed to avoid look-a-like, sound-a-like medical errors.

Both testing and spacing increase how well material is stored in memory (ie, storage strength) and how easily one can retrieve needed material (ie, retrieval strength). Researchers have found that longer retention intervals tend to favor spacing more than short retention intervals. …

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