Tomatoes and Learning

What do tomatoes have to do with learning? More specifically, what do Italian tomatoes have to do with learning? Well, let’s discuss the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s as a time management technique. It is simple in the extreme. His insight was that we work most productively if we take regular, frequent, short breaks. In his technique we work for 25 minutes and then take a five minute break before working for another 25 minutes then breaking again. He reasoned that our brains benefit from these frequent rests, thus making us more productive.

Why is it called the Pomodoro Technique? Because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time his 25 minute work periods:


And so the 25 minute work periods became known as “pomodoros.”

Cirillo did not have a background in learning and his focus was not on learning per se, but on time management. Nevertheless, his intuitive insight has direct application to learning and is supported by many new research studies. For example, in 2012 Michaela Dewar and colleagues published a paper in Psychological Science (Dewar, Alber, Butler, Cowan, & Della Sala, 2012) showing that a 10 minute “wakeful resting” period after learning new information helps to consolidate that information in long-term memory.  Many other studies have shown that sleep is also critical to memory consolidation, though most of us do not have the luxury of taking frequent naps during the day.

But, those of you who are trainers should consider breaking up your courses into shorter sessions with more frequent short breaks. And those of you who are eLearning developers should structure your modules/lessons so no lesson exceeds 30-45 minutes in length. Research shows it will help your learners improve their retention.

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