Rote memorization can get a bad rap, but does it have to be that way? For years and years, our education system was based on a system of rote learning, but in recent years this style of learning has been questioned.
If you have ever wondered, “what does it mean when someone says learning by rote?” you have come to the right place! Understanding what rote means and how learning by rote works can be beneficial to your academic career. From breaking down questions like “what does rote learning mean?” to “how can I use rote learning” and everything in between, we’ll be tackling the ins and outs of rote learning in this article.
What is Rote Learning?
Rote learning means repeating information over and over until it is memorized verbatim. This style of learning is typically used in situations where the wording matters as much, if not more than the context. Understanding what rote learning means is simple, as this is generally thought of as a relatively basic form of learning.
There are lots of characteristics of rote learning, but some of the major ones include repetition and recitation. By constantly repeating information repeatedly, the learner can ingrain the words into their brain. However, they are not always able to fully ingrain the meaning of the words.
One thing to note about rote learning is that it takes lots and lots of repetition. Rote learning is not memorizing a few definitions the night before your test, only to forget them a day later. A better example of rote learning would be practicing your lines repeatedly for a play and still being able to recite most of the lines years later.
5 Rote Learning Examples
There are lots of examples of rote learning, but these are a few of the most common:
Acting is the classic example of rote learning since you are genuinely just repeating the lines repeatedly until you can say them convincingly. In many plays, the wording is essential to the message of the play, so it is critical that the actor gets the words precisely correct. Any change in the dialogue could lead to jokes or references being lost later on in the piece.
Memorization of the meaning of words is integral to understanding so many fields of study. Students of any age typically use rote learning to help memorize definitions of words. This could be for a language class, a science class, or a history class. There are times when even messing up one or two words in a definition can change the meaning, so rote learning is often used when memorizing definitions.
Spelling is an exacting subject with no wiggle room. Although a few words have multiple accepted spellings in the English language, most words have only one accepted spelling, so it is vital that you get it right. If you write “grey” or “gray” on a spelling test, both will count as correct, but writing “through” or “though” are entirely different words.
Multiplication tables have historically been taught using rote learning or by simply having students repeat them repeatedly until they can recite them perfectly. Although this is a slightly antiquated concept, it is still quite popular to have students memorize their multiplication tables. This is a classic example of rote learning.
When learning historical dates, rote learning is often utilized. There is no room for error when learning dates since there is only one date on which an event happened. This makes historical dates a perfect candidate for rote learning. Although you can integrate other learning styles into history, a large amount of basic historical information is retained via rote learning.
Is Rote Learning Effective?
Rote learning is often thought of as a negative thing and is often portrayed in historical movies as the children sitting in the schoolhouse just reciting words back to the teacher. It is not something that is viewed as instilling meaning or true understanding of a concept into the learner, but there are times when rote learning can be effective.
In order to understand why rote learning can be effective, it is crucial to understand the meaning of the word rote. Rote means to repeat something over and over until it becomes habitual and almost becomes second nature. Although typically used to describe academic learning, rote learning can be used to describe more physical learning and can be great for this type of learning.
One way to think of rote learning is like muscle memory. It will eventually become muscle memory if you do the same action repeatedly. For example, if someone plays basketball for their whole life, shooting a basket at a certain height will become second nature. If the hoop changes height by a foot or so, they will have a hard time readjusting because of how much the muscles hold onto the repetition.
In cases where the exact wording or phrasing is essential, rote learning may be the best and possibly only option available to the student. When used correctly, rote learning is a highly effective way to get particular phrasing stuck in your memory. Think of a poem that you memorized as a child. Odds are, you can still remember some of those lines. This is an example of a time when rote learning would have been particularly effective.
Why Is It Important for Students to Understand Rote Learning?
Having an excellent working understanding of rote learning allows students to utilize this learning style to its highest potential. Of course, there are times when you would not want to use rote learning, but there are also times when knowing how to use rote learning can be immensely helpful. Understanding rote learning can also help students differentiate between rote learning and meaningful learning more effectively.
Although it may seem like rote learning is just repeating information, there are many study strategies that are commonly used that fall under the term rote learning. Using flashcards is one of the most frequently used forms of rote learning and can be immensely helpful. One significant benefit of flashcards is that you can save the flashcards to continue reviewing as your learning progresses.
Studies have found that the continued use of rote learning as a learning tool can help improve the brain’s ability to remember things later on in your schooling. Memory is like any other skill that you develop throughout your life; it gets better with practice. If you never practice memorizing things in elementary school, it will be hard for you to memorize information in high school or college.
While you may be inclined to say that you should always understand why you are learning something and that knowing why will help you actually learn the information, it may be worth unpacking this statement. If you are told that you will be tested on Shakespeare quotes from a particular play, will understanding why it is important to learn about famous plays help you in memorizing the quotes? Chances are, it won’t. The main thing that will help you memorize the quotes is your ability to memorize information.
Now there are plenty of times when understanding the meaning behind something, say a scientific process, can really help you learn it, but these are cases when rote learning would not be the best strategy. There is a time and place for rote learning, and it is worth stating that you can overuse this learning strategy. Make sure you mix up the technique you use when learning since having a good mix will ultimately be best for your brain.
It is worth doing a deep dive into the debate of rote learning vs. meaningful learning. We’ll be skimming the surface in this article, but if this is of great interest to you, please check out our other articles on the topics.
What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Rote Learning?
Many people debate rote learning’s advantages and disadvantages since rote learning is often contrasted with meaningful learning. There are advantages of rote learning, but there are plenty of disadvantages of rote learning as well.
Some of the advantages of rote learning include learning details and remembering those details later on. The key to finding the advantages of rote learning for you is to use it with purpose. If you are not finding a particular purpose for rote learning and are just using it with everything, you are much more likely to get burnt out and bored. Instead, if you use rote learning sparingly and only apply it to specific circumstances, it can be a great way of imprinting the memory into your brain. Purpose-driven rote learning has even been shown to help improve your brain’s ability to retain information for a longer time.
One of the most significant disadvantages of rote learning is that it discourages independent and creative thinking. By not allowing the learner to digest the information and process it in their own way, rote learning can feel a little like force-feeding. Rote learning can also begin to hinder the academic progress that a student makes simply because it is so repetitive, which can be exceedingly dull to many students.
How to Apply Rote Learning to Your Studies?
Finding the correct places to apply rote learning to your studies is essential to making the most out of this study strategy. Understanding when it makes sense to use rote learning and when you should look more at analyzing the information you are learning is a skill that will take time to develop but will be very helpful as you continue your education.
Here are some great examples of times when applying rote learning might be a good idea:
- when you are studying for a spelling test
- Memorizing lines for a play
- Learning the lyrics to a song you have to perform
- Reciting a poem for a class or event
- Studying definitions of a technical subject for a test
Looking at your studies and finding these types of times when rote learning might be appropriate and then applying the strategy is the best place to start. Think about when you find yourself using flashcards or quiz games to help drill information into your brain. Extending on the times when you naturally trend towards rote learning is a great place to start.
Don’t feel like you should be forcing rote learning to fit into every subject and class. There will be places where rote learning will not fit, and pushing it will only make you grow to dislike this learning strategy.
If rote learning always feels forced on you, try incorporating it into new study practices. You could try studying with a friend and reciting vocab words back and forth or even try seeing who can correctly write out a definition first. Finding ways to make rote learning fun and engaging will ensure that you get the mental benefits of using this practice without getting too burnt out and bored.
Wrapping Things Up: What Does Rote Learning Mean?
Rote learning has its time and place. Although it is important to know when to use rote learning, it is equally important to know when not to use this memorization learning style. Differentiating between when to use and not to use rote learning can be a challenge but, with time, will get easier. Just as with any other learning style, the more you practice it, the better you will become.
Hopefully, this article has shed some light on why rote learning has been downplayed and why it might not be all bad. Using rote learning in moderation can be a great way to improve your brain’s ability to remember details, but overusing rote learning can make you feel bored and unenthused about your learning. Make sure you are using rote learning to help your brain grow, and we know you will do great!