Education, study and knowledge

Overlearning: what is it and what does it tell us about memory?

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Learning is essential to evolve and improve, and in fact, even if we don't realize it, we learn new things every day. In the psychology of learning we find interesting concepts, such as overlearning.

Overlearning or overlearning It consists in that each new skill acquired must be practiced beyond the initial practice or competition, to end up reaching the automation of said skill or task.

Let's see what studies say about this concept, and how it relates to psychology and education.

  • Related article: "The 13 types of learning: what are they?"

Overlearning: what is it?

Overlearning consists of continue studying or practicing something after it has been acquiredi.e. after initial proficiency has been achieved. It also implies the reinforcement or integration of the material or skill learned.

It is a pedagogical concept (and also a psychological one, as we will see later), which maintains that in the practice of a task beyond the point of mastery, overlearning makes it possible to combat or reduce forgetfulness and improve the transfer.

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That is, overlearning allows the acquired knowledge to be extrapolated to other areas or contexts, beyond the academic field, for example (at home, in the park, in personal life, etc.)


According to some studies, overlearning is important to retain the lesson or material learned successfully, as well as the execution of tasks.

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed how as study participants became more adept at a task, the amount of energy used to perform that task decreased (by the end of the study, said energy had decreased by 20%).

On a physical level, it is known that repeating a task allows "muscle memory" to perform the movement which in turn allows you to reduce unnecessary movements and eliminate energy wasted. This can be extrapolated to learning processes, since according to some authors there is a mental correlation with "muscle memory".

Practical example

Let's think of a dancer who does the same movement countless times; in the end you will come to feel that you can do it perfectly even “while you sleep”. She can repeat the movement as many times as she wants, even transferring that learning to memory. This will significantly reduce any possibility of error in each run.

Psychology of Learning

In the psychology of learning, the concept of overlearning takes on a new meaning, and is related to memory and knowledge retention. The more learning (greater memorization in a task), the less forgetfulness that is obtained from it.

This is related to the famous curve of forgetting by Hermann Ebbinghaus, German philosopher and psychologist. This author concluded that the more significant a memory is, the more it is maintained over time. Perhaps we can even extrapolate this statement to memories that are less “academic” or theoretical, and more emotional (experiences lived autobiographically).

  • You may be interested in: "Hermann Ebbinghaus: biography of this German psychologist and philosopher"

Ebbinghaus's Curve of Forgetting

But back to Ebbinghaus's findings. An interesting phenomenon appears as a result of applying standardized tests in relation to memory; If I give a child a standardized quiz, assignment, or test, his or her score on that test or assignment will be standardized, and altered at most depending on the context (for example, it is a good day for this child, the weather is appropriate, the noise is advisable, etc.)

But if I give the same type of homework consecutively every day to this child, without changing the conditions in which takes place (same place, same time, same scenario,...) after a while there will be a phenomenon of sensitization to the task.

That is, this child mechanically and automatically, he will successfully perform the task and his results will be above what would be expected under normal conditions. In other words, there is overlearning that favors the achievement of the test.

If we relate this to the forgetting curve, we would see that it has a very steep slope when it is memorized. insignificant content, but which is almost flat when the content is attractive or transcendental to the audience. child.

Overlearning on task

We can understand overlearning as something positive, since what is reviewed and memorized for a long period of time, is kept in memory for longer. For example, the multiplication tables; They are hard to forget, since since we were children we systematically review them through a series of "songs" or with mnemonic rules that we learn without meaning, at first.

On the other hand, there is the significance and transcendence of the contents or learning. That is to say, memorizing is not the same as learning, and in education this is seen a lot.

It is important to note that for good learning to take place (meaningful learning), the student You must not only “memorize”, but also understand what you are learning, as well as being able to put it into practice in their daily life in a successful and adaptive way and to relate it to previous concepts.

And how do we relate the latter to overlearning? On standardized tests, overlearning causes children to memorize without understanding why contents, without understanding their importance or relevance, and without connecting the knowledge with previous bases underlying.

Bibliographic references:

  • Beach, T. (2013). What Is "Overlearning" and Why Is It So Important?. A+ Test Prep & Tutoring.
  • Sampascual, G. (2007). Psychology of the education. 2 Volumes. UNED. Madrid.
  • Woolfolk, A. (1996). Educational psychology. Mexico, Prentice-Hall Hispanoamericana SA, p. 316.

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