Does Studying Vocabulary in Smaller Sets Increase Learning?

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Volume 38, p.523–552 (2016)





The present study examined the effects of part and whole learning on the acquisition of second language (L2, English) vocabulary. In whole learning, the materials to be learned are repeated in one large block, whereas, in part learning, the materials are divided into smaller blocks and repeated. Experiment 1 compared the effects of the following three treatments: 20-item whole learning, four-item part learning, and 10-item part learning. Unlike previous studies, part and whole learning were matched in spacing. In Experiment 2, spacing as well as the part-whole learning distinction were manipulated, and the following three treatments were compared: 20-item whole learning, four-item part learning with short spacing, and four-item part learning with long spacing. Results of the two experiments suggest that, (a) as long as spacing is equivalent, the part-whole distinction has little effect on learning, and (b) spacing has a larger effect on learning than the part-whole distinction.