Overlearning: What Does it Tell us About Memory?

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

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

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

Overlearning: what is it?

Overlearning is to continue studying or practicing something after it has been acquired, that is, after the initial competition has been achieved. It also implies the reinforcement or integration of the material or skill learned.

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

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


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

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

At the physical level, it is known that repeating a task allows the “muscular memory” to perform the specific movement, which in turn allows it 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

Think of a dancer who makes the same movement infinity of times; In the end you will come to feel that you can do it perfectly even “while you sleep.” You can repeat the movement as many times as you want, even transfer that learning to memory. This will significantly reduce any possibility of error in each execution.

Psychology of Learning

In the psychology of learning, the concept of overlearning adopts a new meaning, and is related to memory and the retention of knowledge. A greater learning (greater memorization in a task), the less is the forgetfulness of this is obtained.

This is related to the famous curve of oblivion of 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 affirmation to less “academic” or theoretical, and more emotional memories (experiences lived in an autobiographical way).

The Ebbinghaus oblivion curve

But let’s go back to the findings of Ebbinghaus. An interesting phenomenon appears as a result of applying standardized tests in relation to memory; If I give a test, a task or a standardized test to a child, their score in that test or task will be normalized and as much altered according to the context (for example it is a good day for this child, the weather is appropriate, the noise is the advisable, etc.)

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

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

If we relate this to the curve of oblivion, we would see that it has a steep slope when little content is memorized, but that it is almost flat when the content is attractive or transcendental for the child.


We can understand the overlearning as something positive, since what is reviewed and memorized over a long period of time, stays longer in the memory. For example, multiplication tables; they cost of forgeting, since from childhood we systematically review them through a series of “tune” or with mnemonic rules that we learn without meaning, at the beginning.

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), students must not only “memorize”, but also understand what they are learning, as well as be able to put it into practice in their daily lives in a successful and adaptive way. to relate it to previous concepts.

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