By Udeet Datta
The Theory: Interleaved Learning
Generally, whilst training or learning, a technique known as “Blocked Practice” is employed. The idea is that one moves through a course sequence, learning a particular set of skills and then immediately after, practices said skills. Now the “Interleaved Practice” postulates an alternative approach where problems from a certain course are re-arranged, or even mixed with problems from other courses and trainings.1 For example, if you are learning about three different topics, A, B, and C, a series of practice sessions might look like ABC-ACC-BCA-BBC.
The Verdict: True
What does the research say?
- Interleaved Learning has led to significant improvements in learning on a wide range of subjects. In a study of 7th grade math students, those who incorporate interleaved practice into their learning methods, as opposed to traditional or blocked practice, scored 34% higher on tests.2 Interleaved practice has actually also shown to improve the way baseball players hit different types of pitches.3 This form of practice has also helped basketball players improve the way they make different types of shots.4
- There are a varying theories on why Interleaved Learning/Practice works. One popular theory 5 postulates that interleaving improves the brain’s ability to discriminate between concepts. When many problems of the same type are lumped together (as is a typical approach to practice), it becomes easy to simply use the same technique by habit, rather than paying attention to the underlying features of the problem that would lead one to select that technique by choice. The Interleaving effect forces an individual to think deeply about what particular problem-solving technique should be used.
- A second explanation 6 posits that interleaving strengthens memory associations. When you work on a single type of problem at a time, you only need to retrieve the strategy into short-term memory only one time. With interleaving, you are forced to retrieve a new strategy every time you switch problem types. Being forced to retrieve the solution into short-term memory multiple times can reinforce the neural connections between different problems and solutions, hence enhancing long-term learning.