Over the past few decades, cognitive psychologists have found evidence for the following 6 strategies for effective learning:
Interleaving is a learning strategy that involves switching between topics and ideas, which has been shown to improve long-term learning relative to blocking study of the same idea or topic (1). We recently spoke with a 12-year-old student in the UK, who described a similar strategy that he uses, and called it "jumbling it up". We loved this term so much, that we wrote a blog post about it!
Early research in interleaving focused a lot on motor skills (2), but more recently there has been renewed interest in this strategy as it applies to problem-solving, for example in maths (3), as well as how it applies to music (4). In the podcast, Yana talks about an adorable concrete example of interleaving involving her 5-year-old daughter who was trying to interleave addition and subtraction problems.
Interleaving might work because it helps students learn to distinguish between concepts and learn when to apply which strategy (5). Machine learning studies have also attempted to simulate the processes involved in interleaving (6). However, there is still much we do not know about interleaving! For example, while we know that it's not worth interleaving completely unrelated material from different subjects (7), we don't yet know exactly how related the interleaved material should be, or what effect interleaving has on attention. Yana recently submitted a grant proposal with Dr. Sophie Forster at Sussex University to explore these unanswered questions.
We hope you enjoyed this podcast! Check back in 2 weeks, when we’ll be releasing a “bite-size research” episode describe an interesting paper about interleaving.
The Learning Scientists Podcast is funded by The Wellcome Trust.
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(1) Taylor, K., & Rohrer, D. (2010). The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 837-848.
(2) Shea, J. B., & Morgan, R. L. (1979). Contextual interference effects on the acquisition, retention, and transfer of a motor skill. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 5, 179-187.
(3) Rohrer, D., Dedrick, R. F., & Stershic, S. (2015). Interleaved practice improves mathematics learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 900-908.
(4) Carter, C. E., & Grahn, J. A. (2016). Optimizing music learning: Exploring how blocked and interleaved practice schedules affect advanced performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.
(5) Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355-367.
(6) Li, N., Cohen, W. W., & Koedinger, K. R. (2012, June). Problem Order Implications for Learning Transfer. In ITS (pp. 185-194).
(7) Hausman, H., & Kornell, N. (2014). Mixing topics while studying does not enhance learning. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 3, 153-160.