How would you like to take advantage of “one of the most robust findings in all of experimental psychology” while studying Italian wine? It’s called the spacing effect, and it essentially means that spreading out our engagement with new information over time helps that information take root in our mind for the long term. As Sanjay Sarma and Luke Yoquinto write in the Washington Post about this phenomenon, spacing out one’s studies has proven to be helpful for any subject matter and at any age.
Italian Wine Central’s Discovering Italian Wine and Exploring Italian Wine courses are both designed with this type of learning and studying in mind. In each online course, students are provided with access to the material for a duration that allows for a steady pace of one lesson per week. This gives students time to mentally digest any new knowledge for several days before adding more information.
We also provide ample time after the courses for students to review and revisit the material before taking the end-of-course exam or the optional Italian Wine Professional exam. In contrast to cramming for an exam immediately after the course, leaving space to allow information to seep in over time is a demonstrably better approach.
In their Post article, Sarma and Yoquinto explore how and why spaced learning works so well, referencing ways this phenomenon works even in other species. “The spacing effect continues to maintain its starring role in theories of how we remember. The effect is so pervasive that it may be best considered a feature of memory, not a bug.” The effect is linked to the way memories are stored in our brains: “A number of the molecular mechanisms involved in fortifying and preserving synapse strength appear to require significant downtime between bouts of activity.”
Memory recall is actually most accurate when the information is not brand new but has been there for some time. This is how memories are retained, similar to the way building muscle strength requires rest periods as well as active periods.
“The sequence of topics and emphasis on geographic influences (including the excellent maps) were reinforcing and succeeded in building a base level of reference that will make for easier recall long after the ‘studying’ effects have worn off.”H. Lindsey Parris, IWP, Educator at Capital Wine School, Washington, DC
“Studies have found that cramming can lead to better outcomes on test day than the same number of study-hours would, spread out. But in the weeks, months and years after students put their pencils down, the relative advantages of a spaced-out study strategy assert themselves,” Sarma and Yoquinto explain. “Much of what crammers forget, as they dive into the next semester, spacers tend to retain.”
Another key to long-term knowledge retention is, ironically, allowing yourself to forget. “Moments of mild forgetfulness create an opportunity to reinforce the memory for the long term,” the Post authors say. Temporarily letting a new piece of information slip your mind and then being tasked with recalling it a short time later helps build the memory. The article uses the example of remembering a new person’s name after meeting them at a cocktail party. You hear the name once and then get distracted with other conversations and activities. A while later, if you ask yourself what the person’s name was and you’re able to grasp the name at that moment, it’s more likely you’ll remember it long after the party is over.
“Grouping the wines by color and broad geographic areas resulted in revisiting specific regions more than once (based on the various types of wine produced), which helped reinforce the particulars of each region. This approach, coupled with the workbook exercises, made it easier for me to retain what I had learned.”Ray O’Mara, IWP, Capital Wine School, Washington, DC
Whether it’s for personal enjoyment or for work, we know that students ultimately enroll in wine education courses for a practical purpose. They want to be able to use their knowledge in daily life, from sales meetings to wine tastings with friends and anywhere in between. That’s why it is crucial for the information to stick long after students complete an Italian Wine Central course or pass the IWP exam.
You’ve probably experienced the effects of spaced studying vs. cramming at some point in your life. Maybe you studied a language in school and passed every test with flying colors after an all-nighter, but years later you struggle to remember even the basics of the language. On the other hand, if you’ve had a chance to speak the language on other occasions since your school days, then that act of retrieving words and phrases from deep in your mind has actually made them stick better.
The Discovering Italian Wine and Exploring Italian Wine courses are strategically structured for long-term information retention. Both focus on the most relevant Italian wines and grape varieties that our students are likely to engage with in their own lives.
Italian wine can be overwhelming and appear complex, but when the material is curated and organized appropriately it allows students' knowledge to build steadily over time. IWC's courses are designed to reduce cognitive load, meaning the amount of information that is manageable to take in at once. We don't aim to cover every single grape and wine style out there, limiting our scope to what is most relevant. However, students never feel they've "missed out" on any information. Rather, they feel confident knowing they've mastered the most essential Italian wine knowledge.
In our courses, students are presented with knowledge in each lesson which is then tested with brief recall exercises at the end of the lesson. It’s great when they are able to remember everything and answer many questions correctly in the exercises. But, ultimately, getting a few questions wrong on a lesson quiz and then reading the correct answer can actually make this information stronger in the mind.
In addition to intermittent practice exercises, course length and access time are also important elements in our strategy for helping wine enthusiasts and professionals get the most out of each course. Students are given access for enough time to maintain a steady pace through the content—including space to let new names, places, facts, and figures marinate—as well as several weeks after the course wrap-up to allow for spaced studying before the final exam rather than pre-exam cramming.
As for the content within each course, it is also organized in a manner that takes advantage of the spacing effect. Italian regions, grapes, wines, quality regulations, and even language topics are touched on over the course of multiple lessons. Going back the benefits of “mild forgetfulness,” this means students have a chance to recall bits of information at various touchpoints throughout their studies. For example, a student will first get to know the Nebbiolo grape early on in Exploring Italian Wines, then read about it again when diving into Nebbiolo-based DOPs and come across it yet again in the Luxury Wines lesson.
“The advanced IWP on-line course . . . features a practical proficiently designed template that cleverly marries pertinent detailed academic aspects in a neat and sensible format without overwhelming the student but rather facilitating expeditious learning by sectorizing modules, broadly, by basic wine styles regionally. This entails a deep dive into a specific area more than once thus allowing for expansive, cross-disciplinary consolidation and in the end a richer learning experience.”Yegas Naidoo, IWP, International Wine Judge, Port Shepstone, South Africa
While Italian wine is often seen as one of the more overwhelming and complex areas of wine education, it can be mastered when taught in a methodical way that takes advantage of our minds’ natural processes. Italian Wine Central students continue to tell us how much the structure of our courses benefitted their learning and, more importantly, enjoyment of Italian wine.