Learning a new topic can be difficult. On the quest for mastery, we often get caught up not just in what we are learning, but also in how we are learning. We all know that every individual learns in a unique way. Some learners are visual while others prefer to learn through hands-on activities. No matter the style of learning that you prefer, there are some learning techniques that everyone can benefit from.
When learning a new subject, it may make sense to gradually go through the topic step by step and learn the concepts one by one until you have mastered the subject. However, new research shows that it is far more beneficial to learn and study a new topic in almost random order. Jumping around from different concepts and categories can help you learn a new topic faster and more in-depth.
What is interleaving?
Interleaving is a technique you can use when studying a new topic or subject. When you study something new, you should not study it block by block in a specific order. Interleaving suggests that you should study concepts within a subject in seemingly random order. There should not be a predictable structure to the order in which you study concepts. The only rule is that you should not have two of the same concepts in consecutive order.
Unlike traditional block learning, interleaving allows the learner to see the concept in an isolated setting, recall information, and apply it to the problem. Interleaving has been proven to be helpful in a variety of subjects from math and science to literature and art.
Why does it work?
There are a variety of reasons why interleaving works as a learning technique. For starters, interleaving requires the learner to identify the type of concept that is being presented each time. Since each concept is presented in random order, the learner never knows what to expect next. This allows the learner the unique opportunity to identify the type of concept, recall what they already know, and apply their knowledge to the task at hand. This type of studying is much more reflective of the assessment tools that are commonly used to measure understanding. Interleaving prepares learners for traditional tests because it is modeled after a traditional test as well as utilizing the skill in genuine situations.
Interleaving is also a highly valuable study technique because it allows the learner to compare and contrast different examples as they move through concepts. Randomizing the concepts allows you to experience and study each one directly before or after a completely separate idea. When you have different concepts back to back you can identify the similarities and differences a lot easier than when you block concepts together. This is valuable because it makes it easier to make relationships between concepts and to compound your learning for the overall topic.
For example, if you are studying great works of art from the best artists throughout history, try randomizing the order in which you look at the pieces rather than looking at all of an artist’s work at once. This will allow you to see how different artists have a unique style. You will be able to compare and contrast each piece to the one before it to solidify your understanding of each artist’s style. This is also helpful for topics in mathematics. When you learn different concepts back to back it is easier to see the relationship between multiple concepts. This will help you master the subject faster than traditional block studying.
Another reason why this technique works has to do with how we memorize a concept through repetition. Traditionally, learners would study a concept over and over again until they memorized the content. Interleaving allows you more unique interaction with each concept. Studies have found that interleaving makes it easier to memorize concepts faster. When you interleave concepts, you get to have a genuine experience with each concept, helping you make connections faster and deeper. With interleaving, each opportunity for study is worth more.
Interleaving is also a great study technique because allows you to study the entire topic at once. In traditional block studying, you may get stuck on a topic that you find particularly difficult. This may cause you to spend more time on all of the exemplars of that concept while missing out on other concepts you have yet to get to. Interleaving can help you cover more of a topic in a shorter time because you are randomly practicing or learning each unique concept as you go.
How you can implement interleaving in your learning
There are many ways to begin implementing interleaving techniques in your current course of study. The easiest way to begin using the technique is to create a study plan for your next topic or subject. Break down the topic or subject into its separate concepts first. Once you have a visual of all of the concepts that make up a topic, assign each concept a number. Mix the numbers up and study the concepts in random order. Each time you get a chance to study, make sure that your study problems or concepts are randomly distributed throughout your time.
Consider using this technique in a variety of learning settings in all subjects. You may find that interleaving is your preferred method for certain subjects while traditional block study fits your needs for other subjects. Trial and error is the best way to figure out which study techniques work for you. Mixing up your learning can be beneficial in learning how you learn best.
Mixing up the order that you study any topic will help you learn that topic faster and deeper. The quality of your study time will increase greatly because you will be approaching each concept in a way that mirrors assessment. This technique has also been found to more naturally reflect the way that the human brain makes connections between concepts.