Rote learning and how it could be used outside of learning

Rote learning is a memorisation technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it. This method of learning is also commonly known to hinder critical thinking.

“When the role of rote memorization is an end in itself, instead of a means to an end, rote memorization fails as a building block to critical thinking.”
Concordia University — Portland

There are positives for rote learning if we look at it within a framework for passing exams and learning facts. But that is the exact problem as well — the idea of learning without understanding the essence of the subject almost seems meaningless.

One day, while making my way home after a long day at work, I turned to a newspaper for some relief but something clicked in my mind while I was reading it. I looked around and saw everyone else reading the same paper and taking in the same information. I then thought to myself:

“Do we really know what we’re reading?”

It dawned on me, do the journalist’s words convey an accurate (as much as possible) truth? The journalist’s views and thoughts might be filtered by his/her current perspective on the world; starting with filtering from their family and friends; filtered a bit more by the opinions of their teachers during their education period, and finally filtered further by their editor and other peers.

I was starting to see a pattern occurring to use rote learning as a tool for conveying what is truth. The idea of truth might be merely a chain reaction of opinions passed down by repetition during a lifetime.

Take my life, for example, I was being told what to do at every stage of my life — by my family, my culture, my teachers, by the news, my work peers… I’ve constantly been moulded through rote learning.

The Effective Frequency

In advertising, the Effective Frequency is the number of times a person must be exposed to a message before it is absorbed, and when too much exposure is considered wasteful. There are many theories regarding the number of repetitions and its effect on the viewer.

One psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, had conducted research in the late 1880s to figure out how people respond to nonsense syllables such as: laip, cigbet, mheet and snepd. He discovered that by repeating these nonsense syllables in short multiple periods, he was able to get people to retain those syllables. He was also the first to describe the terms, primacy and recency effects, whereby a person remembers the first and last items of a list and not the middle.

Herbert E. Krugman wrote that there are only three levels of exposure in psychological, not media, terms: Curiosity, recognition and decision. Krugman believed that after they have decided on the advert then the viewer “puts it out of their mind” and becomes disinterested in the product/idea no matter how many times they’d be exposed to it thereafter.

Thomas Smith wrote a guide about “Successful advertising” in the late 1880s and his guide is still used today. He mentions that after constant exposure to an advert, the user becomes infatuated with the product/idea. They start to wonder about many things such as:

“What is this stupid thing?!”
“How did they pay for this advert?”
“John, have you heard about this product?”
“Oh, I wish I could afford this!”
“I bet it’s really good?”
“I love it now that I’ve got it!”

You can see how his guide relates to modern marketing practices. A person’s connection with a product plays on a deep emotional level — to the point where they could defend its presence. It makes me wonder how this be utilised outside of marketing.

Now, what I’ve learnt about the Effective Frequency is that if you say the same message time and time again, whether it is something that makes sense or not, it could have two effects on the person:

  1. They acknowledge that the message is true and will end up defending it
  2. They see the message so many times they become desensitised to it


Here are some interesting examples of repetition within the news. I also see this played out with product reviewers as well.



“Repetition is key. The more you hear something, the more subliminal it becomes. If you were told day in and day out that your spouse was cheating, you would probably start to suspect something. So the same goes for other things, as well. If you are told your shoes smell daily, yet you don’t believe it, eventually you will because you are inconveniencing another human, which is something humans don’t like to do.”
– Alex Long

Final thoughts

A combination of rote learning with the Popular Mind and the Effective Frequency shows a powerful way to communicate. As the internet is speeding everything up, our need for always-on is making us more and more volatile — with all this constant exposure to repeated information. Can we trust what we are being shown without critically thinking a bit further?