The Role of Digital Technology in Retrieval Practice

By Mrs Basnett (Director of Digital Learning, Teacher of French)

18 April 2024

Staff INSET in the Michaelmas term was topped and tailed with two talks about the science of revision given by Kim Wells. One strand of this talk was about retrieval practice, a study method that aims to help pupils retain information by actively engaging in what they have previously learnt. It is our job, as teachers, to provide the girls with many opportunities to recall prior topics. When we talk about ‘prior’ and ‘previous’ this can be anything from last week’s lesson to a lesson from a year, two years ago or even more. The very act of recalling this information helps to improve long-term retention and improve the ability to transfer learning to new situations.

There are many ways to go about completing retrieval practice tasks; brain dumps, oral questioning, writing out flashcards, even re-reading and reviewing notes. And, of course, I know that ‘you don’t need electronic gadgetry to practice retrieval’ (Brown) but at a school where every pupil has a Surface Pro it makes sense that we incorporate digital technology into the process and this brings many benefits and advantages.

Technology facilitates the process of retrieval practice in a myriad of ways. I do not propose to talk through individual tools but rather to give an outline of the value they add when undertaking retrieval practice activities. So here are just a few of the reasons why using digital tools matters and why it supports retrieval practice.


The tools we have at our disposal are many and varied. Edpuzzle, Quizlet, Quizizz, Kahoot, Microsoft Forms, Mentimeter, these are just some of the online tools that are available to us and that are being used frequently in our classrooms. The different tools allow for other ways of learning and revisiting topics either through flashcards, multiple-choice quizzes or short answer questions. This seems like a lot of tools, but variety is key here because learning never becomes boring or monotonous and engagement remains high. Additionally, a variety of types of tasks can certainly aid in better retention and recall of information and provides pupils with opportunities to think in different ways. All of which means that learning can be accessible and tailored to individual learning preferences.


There is no denying that technology allows for instant feedback which is obviously a massive boon as pupils can quickly see if they are correct. If they have gone wrong, they can address their misconception through questions to the teacher, or through reconsidering their notes, all of which is crucial for learning and aids in the process of recall and retention. AI integration within quizzes and educational tools introduces an extra dimension, enabling learning paths to be customised and tailored. This results in the creation of highly effective and individualised learning experiences. Tools such as Quizizz, Edpuzzle and Microsoft Forms all facilitate immediate, discreet engagement with errors, aiding students in understanding and correcting their mistakes promptly in a low key way. Low stakes quizzes enable students to learn for learning’s sake; these quizzes are not about the mark they will receive but about the opportunities to commit something to memory more permanently.

As an aside, one element of online quizzing that has not yet been broached here is the data and information that teachers can glean from the work that pupils undertake online. As a teacher we can see at a glance where our pupils are with their learning and how we can help them progress. The idea is not to note down marks but learn from their responses and provide valuable further steps. It is, thus, not beyond the realms of possibility that these tools will impact positively on teachers’ workload. The rich feedback available from online tools means that common misconceptions can be addressed as a whole, in class, but at the same time, individuals can make their own assessments and dip into other available quizzes for more practice.


Using online tools provides great flexibility. Our pupils can access these tools on their Surface Pros but perhaps more importantly, they can also access them when they are on the go. Such flexibility allows for more frequent and consistent retrieval practice. Giving the pupils access to all the retrieval practice activities we have created over time means that they can space their learning and thus mix up their practice adding to the efficacy of their learning and their ability to memorise knowledge and skills. Under this heading of accessibility I believe that independent learning is also significant. If quizzes, videos and questioning are available via online tools anytime, anywhere, then we are fostering independent learning and providing opportunities for pupils to take charge of their learning. Learners can use digital tools to self-assess and practise independently thus re-engaging with prior content.

To summarise, digital tools enrich retrieval practice by making it more varied, accessible and personalised and for these reasons, very effective. It also provides valuable data that can help tailor teaching to meet students’ needs more precisely. Retrieval practice can happen in many ways and digital tools should play a part in helping our pupils to develop their long-term memories. Within our established digital ecosystem, it is feasible and highly beneficial to integrate retrieval practice tasks seamlessly into our lessons, making them a fundamental aspect of the learning process.


@retrievelearn. 19 June 2019.

Brown, Roediger III, McDaniel. Make it stick. USA: Belknap, 2014.

Willingham, Daniel T. Why Don’t Students Like School. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

‘The Role of Digital Technology in Retrieval Practice‘ by Jane Basnett, published in The Enquiry: Issue 7.

The Enquiry is a staff journal dedicated to reflections on educational research, and teaching and learning at Downe House School. Issue 7 was published in March 2024, looking back at Michaelmas term 2023.

All previous issues can be found here: The Enquiry by downehouseschool Stack – Issuu.

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