Spiral curriculum for effective learning

Methodology for effective training and learning


  • Based on the latest findings in cognitive science as well as on empirical research
  • Encourages problem solving to provide deeper and longer-lasting results
  • Follows a spiral curriculum to reinforce previous learning by approaching topics at a higher level of difficulty and in greater detail each time they are revisited
  • Retrieval practice organised at intervals, using testing as a powerful tool and providing corrective feedback
  • Applying different methods and practising different topics helps student choose the right tool from their growing toolbox

Our approach to training and learning is not based on one particular learning theory. Instead it draws on the latest findings in cognitive science and is well supported by experiments and empirical research.

Many traditional learning strategies have been proven to be ineffective and even counterproductive. However, teaching and learning tools such as books, digital and online resources are predominantly still based on these principles. As a result, teachers also still frequently apply these strategies.

They include tactics such as cramming and block learning, repeating a particular exercise or task until it has ‘sunk in’ as well as repeatedly rereading text including highlighting key points. These techniques lead only to one thing: the illusion of mastery and a body of knowledge that disappears from the learner’s mind very quickly.
It is not just eminent psychologists and academics who have discovered that there are more efficient ways of learning. Many practitioners have changed their methods as well, based on practical experience of what is ‘working’ and ‘not working’. These practitioners include, for example, Farmers Insurance in the US with 21,000 employees and 48,000 independent agents who are all trained by the company, business coaches all over the world and even professional sports clubs.

A strategy that leads to deep and long-lasting learning is based on:

  • Challenging acquisition
  • Relating current learning to previous knowledge
  • Retrieval practice that is challenging and interleaved, and takes place at intervals


Challenging acquisition

To provide deeper learning and longer-lasting results, there needs to be a certain degree of difficulty. Presenting a problem and its solution is ‘easy’ learning, but it does not last. For example, you can tell someone the definition of X but they will soon forget it. A better approach would be to present them with an audio recording, a video or a text where X is used in context and ask them to work out what it means themselves.

Practising challenging acquisition means that learners are invited to figure out a problem themselves, for example with the help of open questions, instead of asking them to write down (and memorise) a solution or a piece of advice.

Relating current learning to previous knowledge

There are two aspects to this: content and course structure.

Traditional methods have students learning content in isolated blocks, focusing on one topic at a time to the exclusion of all others. However, to encourage information to fix in our long-term memory we need to make multiple connections to it. Think of a small village with one road leading into it and compare that to a big city with multiple roads and motorways leading into it. Generally, the city is visited more often than the village and will be more well-known.

The same applies to knowledge acquisition. This means we need to add connections to a piece of knowledge in our long-term memory by revisiting the topic. This can be done through a spiral curriculum, i.e. by structuring the course so that new content is linked to previous knowledge or lessons. This not only reinforces previous learning, it also allows the learners to add depth to their skills and/or knowledge by revisiting a topic at a higher level of difficulty and in greater detail.

Retrieval practice

In order to ensure that newly learned knowledge and/or skills are retained in the long term, you must practise retrieving these from memory. Most people who have to learn for an exam probably still reread the study text as often as they can, and highlight keywords or even whole paragraphs to memorise the content for an exam. This does work, but it is not effective and the material learned does not stick in the long term. It has been proven numerous times that testing is, for a variety of reasons, a powerful retrieval tool and certainly more effective than endless rereading. The use of past papers as a revision tool for school exams is one example for the application of this method.

Retrieval practice should take place at intervals:

One major issue with learning is that most people tend to do nothing for a week or even a month and then complete all of the exercises, tests etc. at the last minute before they have a face-to-face session. The way our brains work means that, ideally, we should have forgotten a certain amount of what is to be learned before we practise retrieving it. Reading a page and doing a test straightaway will initially lead to a high score, but this ‘success’ wanes very quickly. It is far more effective to space out the retrieval practice, by doing the test the next day for example. The harder the brain has to work to retrieve knowledge, the stronger the retention effect.

The practice should be challenging:

A simple multiple-choice test already yields better results than rereading study material. However, the more challenging the practice, the better. Quizzes with short-answer questions or 200-word reflection exercises are even more effective.

The practice should be varied and interleaved:

Block learning (today we learn about A, tomorrow about B, etc.) has always been very popular and forms the basis of most textbooks, particularly language textbooks. Students are faced with several pages on the present tense before they move on to several pages on the perfect tense and so on. This not only makes retrieval practice mind-numbing, it also does not reflect real life. You won’t be communicating in the present tense one day, then speaking only in the past tense the following day. Meaningful retrieval practice mixes different methods (varied) and topics (interleaved), allowing the student to choose the right tool from their growing toolbox in any given real-life situation.

On testing:

As mentioned above, testing can be a powerful retrieval tool. In addition to the above (set at intervals, challenging, varied, interleaved), it is important that learners receive corrective feedback.

What we can do for you

  • We provide tailored learning packages that cater content to your chosen platform and its functionality.
  • We can design quizzes, challenging and varied exercises as well as other retrieval tools such as videos to create a course for you from scratch.
  • Alternatively, we can convert your current content into a format that follows our proven methodology to improve your student’s performance.
  • We’ll design and create the content for your course not only considering the desired learning outcome, but also the learners’ prior knowledge.


Contact us to see how we can help you: