Teaching innovation fund proposal: towards a universal distributed practice platform

This project is a pilot study into the feasibility of producing a protocol or process for scaffolding distributed practice within tutorials.

Start date

April 2022

End date

July 2022


Distributed practice is a model of curriculum design which deliberately spaces out opportunities for memory storage and retrieval of taught information to develop deep, robust and long-term learning for students.

This translates clearly into assessment where those who have learned in a ‘distributed curriculum’ compared to a ‘massed curriculum’ can show significant learning gains, from what is referred to as the ‘distributed practice’, ‘spacing’, or ‘lag’ effect. This effect is well documented in cognitive psychology, and has been demonstrated for students across ages and abilities, inside and outside of classroom environments.

However, when left to their own devices, students do not make use of them. To help scaffold distributed practice for students, a curriculum is one design principle (known as spiral curricula) but as students move towards more flexible learning environments (notably as a result of Covid-19), they may not access such spiral curricula without specific intervention (e.g. time-locked content), of course, possibly at the risk of reduced student satisfaction!

I propose a flexible teacher, student, or teacher-student led platform which can build in spaced learning explicitly, which provides a scaffolded opportunity to embed distributed practice into a curriculum as well as a key, long-term, revision tool in the preparation of assessments. Importantly, if the platform proves feasible, it should represent minimal time investment for teachers, making use of existing course content, as well as almost unlimited investment for students.

Aims and objectives

The feasibility of a digital (e.g., a web application) where teachers and/or students can add questions or content to ‘pods’ which are then served to the students within an adaptive frequency distribution is to be assessed. This project is also designed to give the opportunity for an enthusiastic student to become embedded in research and become socialised to what it means to be a researcher.

The long-term vision would be: A digital tool that updates areas for revision; a tool that adapts to student progress, favouring topics with little competence but without excluding topics with high competence; students can take responsibility and add topics/questions to the tool which become part of the spaced revision.

Lewis will work with the student initially to evaluate the feasibility of a suitable digital tool, for example, he has identified Xerte, Python, and possibly SurreyLearn itself as platforms that would likely be suitable. After the student has investigated some of these platforms, Lewis will help them decide on one, with the intention to have an open-door policy for the student to work on this project but stipulate at least one weekly catch-up to help guide progress.

Funding amount



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