Overlearning: What Is It And What Does It Tell Us About Memory?


Learning is essential to evolve and improve, and in fact, although we do not realize it, we learn new things every day. In learning psychology we find interesting concepts, such as overlearning.

Overlearning or overlearning It is that each new skill acquired must be practiced beyond the initial practice or competence, to end up achieving automation of said skill or task.

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

Overlearning: what does it consist of?

Overlearning (overlearning) consists of continue studying or practicing something after it has been acquired, that is, after initial competence has been achieved. It also involves the reinforcement or integration of the material or skill learned.

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

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 expert at a task, the amount of energy used to perform said task decreased (At the end of the study, this energy had decreased by 20%).

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On a physical level, it is known that repeating a task allows “muscle memory” to perform the specific movement, which in turn allows you to reduce unnecessary movements and eliminate wasted energy. 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 about a dancer who does the same movement countless times; In the end she will come to feel that she can do it perfectly even “while she sleeps.” 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 execution.

Psychology of Learning

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

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

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

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

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But if I give the same type of task consecutively every day to this child, without changing the conditions in which it is done (same place, same time, same setting,…) after a while a phenomenon of task awareness.

That is, this child mechanically and automatically, will successfully complete the task and its results will be above what would be expected under normal conditions. In other words, overlearning occurs 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 insignificant content is memorized, but that it is almost flat when the content is attractive or transcendental for the child.

Overlearning on homework

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

On the other hand, there is the significance and significance of the content 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 occur (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.

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And how do we relate the latter to overlearning? In standardized tests, overlearning causes children to memorize without understanding the reason for the content, without understanding its importance or relevance, and without connecting the knowledge with previous underlying foundations.

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