Rote 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. Specific strategies have been developed to support retention and recall of rotely learned information. Prominent examples include:
  • Spaced Repetition (a.k.a., Spaced Rehearsal,Expanding RehearsalGraduated IntervalsRepetition SpacingRepetition Scheduling, Spaced Retrieval, Expanded Retrieval) – a technique that exploits the fact that rote learning improves when study is spread out over time (the “spacing effect”)
  • 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.
  • Active Recall – a technique based on practice, testing, and feedback (e.g., flashcards)
  • 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.
Discourses have been developed to examine and improve the above sorts of strategies. For example:
  • 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
  • Mnemonics
  • Overlearning
  • Skilled Memory Theory
  • Spaced Repetition

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Rote Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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