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. Different types of Rote Learning have been proposed, including:
  • State-Dependent 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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Retrieval Practice (Testing Effect; Practice Testing) – 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
  • Relearning (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
  • 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”)
  • 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. 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
  • Anticipation Learning Method (Anticipation Method; Serial Anticipation Method)
  • Context-Specific Learning
  • Flash Cards
  • Mnemonics
  • Overlearning
  • Part Method of Learning
  • Relearning
  • Retrieval Practice (Testing Effect; Practice Testing)
  • Serial Learning (Serial-Order Learning)
  • Skilled Memory Theory
  • Spaced Repetition (Expanded Retrieval, Expanding Rehearsal, Graduated Intervals, Repetition Scheduling, Repetition Spacing, Spaced Rehearsal, Spaced Retrieval)
  • State-Dependent Learning
  • Whole Method of Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Rote Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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