Time & Learning Theory

There is a substantial amount of research describing the pivotal role of time in the learning process. NCTL has synthesized the relevant research in the Case for More Learning Time . In addition, we have compiled some of the key resources in the field of time and learning for quick reference. 

Key Sources

Berliner, D. (1990). What’s all the fuss about instructional time? In M. Ben-Peretz & R. Bromme (Eds.), The Nature of Time in Schools New York: Teacher College Press.

Provides a history of relevant learning theories and studies on instructional time and concludes that instructional time, especially as described in the Academic Learning Time model, is a useful tool for observing, predicting, and controlling learning behaviors.

Bloom, B. S. (1968). Learning for mastery. Evaluation Comment, 1(2), University of California at Los Angeles, Center for the Study of Evaluation. Reprinted in C. W. Fisher & D. C. Berliner (Eds.). (1985). Perspectives on instructional time (pp. 73-93). New York and London: Longman. 

Emphasizes that simple “one size fits all” allocations of time will not result in mastery learning for most students. Thus, an alternative model for classroom learning is proposed, where the use of frequent assessments results in corrective actions (including varied lengths of instructional time) to inform subsequent steps towards concept mastery. The author asserts that this model corrects for the disparity in student capacity.

Carroll, J. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record, 64: 723-733. 

Provides a theoretical model for the impact of instructional time on classroom learning. The author concludes that learning is a function of the time spent on task and the time a student needs to complete the task.

Describes the process, findings, and implications of the Beginning Teacher Evaluation Study (BTES). The BTES focused on the instructional practices of veteran teachers, as well as the associated performance outcomes of their students. In line with previous studies, researchers found substantial inter-classroom variation in time allocated to various subjects. However, because the BTES study focused on highly specific learning tasks (e.g. decoding consonant blends), it was determined that increases in time allocated to these tasks did actually result in increased student achievement; something that was previously disputed in the literature. This led to the development of a complex measure of student learning titled “Academic Learning Time.”

Research from Harvard economist Roland Fryer examined charter schools in New York City to identify those elements within schools that had the greatest impact on academic outcomes. The analysis included many traditional measures like teacher credentials and class size, but found that those factors had only weak correlations with student achievement. Instead, the research determined that instructional time—measured as the time students were actually engaged in learning—and high-dosage tutoring were much stronger predictors of higher achievement. 

Gettinger, M. (1985). Time allocated and time spent relative to time needed for learning as determinants of achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 3-11.

Evaluates the extent to which allocating less time than is needed for learning affects overall student achievement. The report analyzes fourth and fifth grade students, with the ultimate finding that both the degree of initial learning and the 1-week retention of knowledge dropped significantly when children spent less time than was needed to learn an experimental task.

In an evaluation of the charter schools in New York City, analysts discovered that among charter school students those who attended schools with a significantly longer school year (which usually was strongly associated with a longer day) performed much better than their peers in charter schools with years of more conventional length. In fact, expanded time registered one of the strongest correlations among the roughly 30 different factors considered. 

Reviews existing studies of time use in schools, with a focus on the sources of variation and the impact on student achievement. Includes an analysis of the Beginning Teacher Evaluation Study, as well as studies of: the effect of pupil attention on achievement; the relationship between concurrent achievement and attention measures; time allocation and achievement; and student responses to varying practices.  

Wiley, D., & Harnischfeger, A. (1974). Explosion of a myth: Quantity of schooling and exposure to instruction: Major educational vehicles. Educational Researcher, 3, 7-12.

This inquiry into the debate of quantity versus quality of education is based upon extant research that finds inconsequential effects of schooling on student achievement. The outcome of this exploration not only produced evidence that schooling had a large, important effect of achievement, but also proposed a model for exposure to instruction that highlights varying lengths of instructional time based upon individual needs.

For more information please contact: research@timeandlearning.org