Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Verb Learning in Children with SLI: Frequency and Spacing Effects

A child’s word knowledge or vocabulary supports oral and written language learning. Children with developmental language disorders (DLD; also known as specific language impairment) have difficulty learning new vocabulary in naturalistic contexts because they need more exposures to learn new words and tend to forget the words they just learned. A large body of research has shown positive effects on learning from an approach called distributed learning, which involves spacing out learning episodes with longer intervals between them.

This study looked at whether such a spaced learning approach would be effective for vocabulary learning in children with DLD. Specifically, the researchers examined how vocabulary learning was influenced by increasing the number of exposures (frequency effects) and spreading out the exposures over time (spacing effects) for children with and without DLD. To answer this question, researchers taught four nonwords to preschool-aged children with either 12 or 18 exposures spread out over either 1 or 4 days. With this study design, each word was taught using a different schedule (i.e., 12 exposures on 1 day, 12 exposures over 4 days, 18 exposures on 1 day, or 18 exposures over 4 days).

Overall, results showed that word learning among children with typical language skills was the same regardless of number or spacing of exposures. For children with DLD, however, word learning was better when the exposures were spread out over 4 days. There was also a frequency effect for children with DLD, but only for words taught on a single day. If the exposures were spread out over 4 days, the number of exposures didn’t seem to matter. Finally, testing a week after the completion of training showed poorer retention for children with DLD when they were asked to name the target words. In comparison, children with typical language showed no evidence of forgetting. These findings suggest that children with language impairment may benefit from spaced vocabulary learning rather than from exposures en masse.

Blogger: Laura Pauls is a PhD student in the Language and Working Memory Lab

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