Rote Learning


Verbatim Learning


Memorization of not-necessarily-meaningful information

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … objectified facts
  • Knowing is … recalling (of memorized information)
  • Learner is … a repository (individual)
  • Learning is … storing, encoding (memorizing information)
  • Teaching is … presenting (information)


Ancient (entrenched in the language)


Rote Learning refers to approaches that emphasize repetition and memorization, with the goal of quick and accurate recall. It is typically encountered in contexts and disciplines where uncritical mastery of a block of information is useful. Different types of Rote Learning have been proposed, including:
  • State-Dependent Learning (Dissociated Learning)– Information committed to memory is better recalled when one is in the same physiological and psychological states as when it was learned.
  • Context-Specific Learning – Some memories can only be recalled in specific locations, circumstances, or states, likely owing to cues or associations specific to those contexts.
Specific strategies have been developed to support retention and recall of rotely learned information. Prominent examples include:
  • Active Recall – a technique based on practice, testing, and feedback (e.g., flashcards)
  • Anticipation Learning Method (Anticipation Method; Serial Anticipation Method) – a technique for memorizing sequences of details by using one item as a trigger/reminder for the next
  • Cover, Copy, Compare – a Rote Learning strategy, most frequently mentioned in relation to mastery of spelling, sight-reading, and calculation skills, that involves (1) presenting a sequence of correct examples in the left column of a two-column chart; (2) in sequence, and after observing an example, covering it; (3) replicating it in the cell to the right; and (4) checking the copy by comparing (and correcting as necessary)
  • Flash Cards – a set of cards, each with a question on one side and the answer on the other – typically used in rapid succession to support memorization
  • Free-Recall Learning – the principle that more effective learning of lists of information – that is, better organized categories and better recall – can be supported by reciting learned information is a consistent and ordered way, no matter how that information was initially presented
  • Mnemonics – a technique of connecting details to be recalled to any familiar or easy-to-remember device (e.g., an image, a rhyme, a home, a dramatization). Many mnemonic strategies have been developed. Prominent specific examples include:
    • Keyword Mnemonic – a technique for remembering a word’s meaning based on an association with its pronunciation (e.g., using the image of “a plum in a fridge (i.e., that’s cool)” to remember the meaning of “aplomb”)
    • Method of Loci – a common mnemonic technique based on pairing of items to specific locations in a familiar location (e.g., the rooms of a house)
    • Pegword Method – a technique for remembering a list of items by “pegging” each item to a word on an already-memorized list
  • Overlearning (Hermann Ebbinghaus, 1890s) was originally defined as the number of repetitions needed in order to recall memorized material with 100% accuracy. It is currently more loosely defined in terms of practicing after the point of desired or required proficiency.
  • Part Method of Learning – a learning technique in which content is parsed to be memorized in an order sequence of pieces. (Contrast with Whole Method of Learning.)
  • Relearning (Savings in Relearning; Savings Method) (Hermann Ebbinghaus, 1880s) – advice for enhancing memory, based on the observation that one can quickly and effectively recover prior knowledge by engaging in the study of already-learned (but not recently rehearsed) material
  • Repetition Principle – One of the more problematic discourses on matters of both Practice and Rote Memory, the Repetition Principle began as the realization that repeating an assertion a sufficient number of times will convince some of its voracity. That truism of propagandists and advertisers devolved into a principle of teaching – namely, that a specific number of repetitions with lead to robust learning. That number varies from context to context. Some examples include seven for marketers to convince consumers of a product’s worthiness, 17 for a new word to enter long-term memory, and 25 physical reps to train a muscle to a desired motion. The science behind all such notions is dubious.
  • Retrieval Cue ­– a hint intended to activate relevant long-terms memories. Types include:
    • Associate Cue – a type of Retrieval Cue that aids recall by providing a relevant category or feature of the desire long-term memories
    • Contextual Cue (Contextual Association) – any situated aspect of a memory (e.g., location, season, companions) that both bolsters that memory and enables retrieval
    • Identity Cue – a type of Retrieval Cue that is identical to the long-term memory that is hoped to be activated – as encountered, for example, on a multiple-choice exam
  • Retrieval Practice (Practice Testing; Test-Enhanced Learning; Testing Effect) – any exercise associated with the deliberate recall of information – including, e.g., quizzes, flashcards, and textbook exercises. If appropriately challenging, Retrieval Practice significantly boosts retention.
  • Self-Reference Effect – the tendency to retain information longer and with greater fidelity when it is associated with oneself. (Note: The Self-Reference Effect should not be confused with the broader concept of Self-Reference, under Second-Order Cybernetics.)
  • Serial Learning (Serial-Order Learning) – memorizing a sequence of items in a particular order.
  • Spaced Repetition (Expanded Retrieval, Expanding RehearsalGraduated IntervalsRepetition Scheduling, Repetition Spacing, Spaced RehearsalSpaced Retrieval) – a technique that exploits the fact that rote learning improves when study is spread out over time (the “spacing effect”). Associated constructs include:
    • Spaced Learning (Douglas Fields, 2000s) – a precise type of Spaced Repetition involving three repetitions that are separated by 10-minute intervals. Substantial evidence has been gathered on the efficacy of Spaced Learning for Rote Learning.
  • Superlearning (Sheila Ostrander & Lynn Schroeder, 1990s) – In its broad sense, Superlearning refers to any strategy that can enhance learning. In a narrower, trademarked sense, Superlearning is a program of memorization techniques and self-development advice that is marketed as able to make clients “smarter.”
  • Ultralearning (Scott Young, 2010s) – Aimed at adult learners, and positioned as guidance on continual self-education to maintain competitiveness in an increasingly complex career environment, Ultraleaning is a program of advice on how to master new skills quickly.
  • Verbal Learning (Hermann Ebbinghaus, 1880s) – the processes associated learning letters, digits, sight words, and so on to the level of automaticity. Associated constructs include:
    • Paired-Associate Learning (Paired-Associates Method; Paired-Associates Recall) – a Verbal Learning technique that involves first learning letters, syllables, words, etc. in pairs and later identifying the missing element when presented with half of the pair
    • Serial Learning (Serial-Order Learning) – memorizing a sequence of items in a particular order
    • Nonverbal Learning (Hermann Ebbinghaus, 1880s) – the processes associated with rote learning about images, nonlanguage sounds, tactile sensations, odors, tastes, etc.
  • Whole Method of Learning – a learning technique in which an entire block of content is memorized. (Contrast with Part Method of Learning.)
Discourses have been developed to examine and improve the above sorts of strategies. Theories, tools, and associated constructs include:
  • Categorical Clustering – recalling items based on some sort of category (e.g., similar meaning, related usage, same color)
  • Skilled Memory Theory (K. Anders Ericsson, Bill Chase, 1980s) – a three-step model (meaningful encoding, retrieval structure, and speed-up) devised to account for the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of mnemonic devices.


As might be inferred from contemporary synonyms (e.g., parroting, regurgitating, cramming), Rote Learning is commonly criticized as ineffective, tedious, passive, and meaningless. Moreover, now that information is so readily accessed and analyzed, the utility of excessive Rote Learning has been questioned. Importantly, few argue that there is no place for Rote Learning in formal education. Rather, most commentators recognize the value of having relevant information “at your fingertips,” but argue that such information should be nested in rich webs of meaning.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Rote Learning is not a theory of learning, in the sense of a perspective that offers insight into the complex dynamics of cognition.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Rote Learning is a common emphasis in many classrooms – that is, it could be construed as a theory of how to teach some topics. However, it would be inappropriate to call it a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

There has been a great deal of research into Rote Learning – on effective mnemonics, on how to structure practice, on amount and timing of repetitions, on retention and decay of memorized information, and so on. However, since it’s a practice rather than a perspective, it would be inappropriate to classify Rote Learning as a scientific theory.


  • Active Recall
  • Anticipation Learning Method (Anticipation Method; Serial Anticipation Method)
  • Associate Cue
  • Categorical Clustering
  • Context-Specific Learning
  • Contextual Cue (Contextual Association)
  • Cover, Copy, Compare
  • Flash Cards
  • Free-Recall Learning
  • Identity Cue
  • Keyword Mnemonic
  • Method of Loci
  • Mnemonics
  • Nonverbal Learning
  • Overlearning
  • Paired-Associate Learning (Paired-Associates Method; Paired-Associates Recall)
  • Part Method of Learning
  • Pegword Method
  • Relearning (Savings in Relearning; Savings Method)
  • Repetition Principle
  • Retrieval Practice (Practice Testing; Test-Enhanced Learning; Testing Effect)
  • Self-Reference Effect
  • Serial Learning (Serial-Order Learning)
  • Retrieval Cue
  • Serial Recall
  • Skilled Memory Theory
  • Spaced Learning
  • Spaced Repetition (Expanded Retrieval, Expanding Rehearsal, Graduated Intervals, Repetition Scheduling, Repetition Spacing, Spaced Rehearsal, Spaced Retrieval)
  • State-Dependent Learning (Dissociated Learning)
  • Superlearning
  • Ultralearning
  • Verbal Learning
  • Whole Method of Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Rote Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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