Children need to adopt a variety of ways to internalize basic skills. One of the ways commonly adopted by children is rote learning. Rote learning is basically learning by repetition. Children repeat alphabets and learn to rote count in the prescribed sequence, and further, the multiplication tables too.
They are made to do so until they recall everything correctly. Thus, the basic action that rote learning does is to stimulate memory. Repetitions help strengthen the concept.
Also, things that are to be learned as they are and don’t involve strategy can be best learned with rote memorization. But, this technique may not benefit all. Thus, in this post, we bring you the advantages and disadvantages of rote learning to help understand when and for whom should it be applied.
Why rote learning is important – A quick look at researches
Researchers have done a lot of work in understanding the role of rote learning in children’s skill development. Some of the important findings that explain the role of memorizing by repetitions are enlisted below.
- English Vocabulary building in students of EFL: EFL means English as Foreign Language. Thus, students living in countries where English is taught as second language or foreign language use rote memorizing to build their vocabulary learning strategies.
- Practical Chemistry Skills Development in Students: Chemistry is a subject where a lot of memorizing of formulae, structure and equations is required. These skills may be strongly developed with repeated reading and recalling or, in specific terms, rote memorizing.
- Basic mental math activities like dodging numbers: In many exams, the students are required to solve a variety of questions in very less time. Doing their best in minimal time requires them to be fast in thinking and retrieval of concepts. Simple prior-to-exam activity like rote memorizing basic arithmetic formulae can offer more time. Thus, every quick calculation done due to learned formulas means more time for complex problems; and eventually, better performance in exams.
- Spelling learning: Though phonetics and phonemic awareness is necessary for building spellings, rote learning helps strengthen spellings. Taking cues from phonemics and applying learning by rote , the students can remember and iterate spellings in an appreciably speedy manner.
All the roles mentioned above, and studied by researchers indicate a lot about the advantages that rote learning offers. But, like every learning technique, rote learning may have its challenges too; this means, some profiles may not benefit from it. So, let’s dissect both the advantages and disadvantages of rote learning in the following sections.
1. Advantages of Rote Learning
Rote learning has a deeper impact on cranial capacity. It is found to bring added plasticity to the brain’s working. By repeating the words, numbers, or any pattern in the mind, the memory formation capacity of the brain is increased. Besides this, the other advantages of rote learning are:
- Longer retention: By the method of repeated revisions, the learners can boost their memory recall. They can retain the concept for comparatively longer duration. Sometimes, concept retention can happen for life. Don’t we all remember multiplication tables till late in life which we rote learned in childhood? This simple example talks about sustainable skill-building that happens when students are encouraged to learn by repetitions.
- Quicker concept recall: Whenever a student is asked to answer a question, the process of answering requires concept recall. The learners can perform better in written and oral exams wherever they are asked to write the conceptual definitions, etc. It is because by rote learning they imbibe the written material as it is and reiterate the learnt material in the same format. Thus, it helps them score better.
- Better display of knowledge: When you write an essay or any piece of literature, it requires you to be thorough with spelling, vocabulary and grammar rules. Rote memorization is required to develop these basic skills required for doing complex tasks.
- Proper retention of any procedure’s steps: Rote learning is required at all stages of education and in later years too. If you have chosen to study medicine where you need to learn how to examine a patient or aim to be a surgeon, you need to learn all the steps in correct sequence by-heart in adequate repetitions. The same is applicable for doing lab tests in Chemistry class, or while modelling circuit diagram in electrical engineering class.
- Improves concept recall among aging people: Memory boosting gets a hit when the brain ages with time. The conditions like dementia, or forgetfulness interfere with the concept retention and thus, the learners feel lost and helpless. A study published in Science Daily, ‘Rote Learning Improves Memory In Seniors‘, supports the fact that act of memorization can give seniors’ brains the requisite exercise. Thus, they display improved levels of cranial agility.
But, there must be a reason why teachers emphasize meaningful learning or strategic thinking. It is actually due to a few disadvantages which we will cover next.
2. Disadvantages of Rote Learning
Education researchers in many countries talk about the inefficacy of only rote learning in helping learners build and retain skills. The concept is mostly limited to Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and other third-world nations. However, the educators in these countries also have started stressing upon understanding in conjugation with memorizing. The reasons are:
- Not fit for people suffering from limited short term memory issues: The concept of rote learning does not go well with young children and grown-ups who suffer from poor short term memory or other types of learning disorders. Since the learnings from rote method are dependent entirely on one’s memory retention capacity, the people suffering from attention deficit, too, may not benefit from it.
- No derivation of knowledge from previously learned facts: A book or paper with something to repeatedly practice comes in front of a learner and they simply rehearse what is written without finding anything about the content. Thus, they cannot develop any actual learning and will simply try to retain the part they have read in their minds. The chances of learning how to apply a rehearsed material are likely to be minimal too.
- Not the correct determiner of IQ: When the Rehabilitation Act or IDEA Act that protect people with learning disabilities were not in place, only the capacity to memorize and churn out the rehearsed part was the determiner of a student’s smartness or intelligence. It was certainly not the correct way of assessment. Many scientists, painters, philosophers, musicians, etc. could not rote learn words or numbers, but were masters in their area of interest.
Rote memorizing or learning is just one of the learning techniques that students need to use for meeting their academic objectives. But, the problem arises when students drift apart from meaningful learning and use it as a shortcut only to get good grades. Such people fail to survive in the places where visual thinking or reasoning abilities are needed for task accomplishment or when they need to carry out a process in a strategy-driven manner. So, the problem does not lie in technique but in the way it is implemented in the teaching or learning process.
 A Study of the Role of Rote Learning in Vocabulary Learning Strategies of Burmese Students, Kantatip Sinhaneti, 2012
 Roche, R.A., Mullally, S.L., McNulty, J.P. et al. Prolonged rote learning produces delayed memory facilitation and metabolic changes in the hippocampus of the ageing human brain. BMC Neurosci 10, 136 (2009).
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