CATL Teaching Guides

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Brief Description

A common approach to practice involves focusing on one skill, one type of concept or problem until it is learned with some degree of fluency or proficiency, and then moving on to a different skill or type of problem. This is called blocked practice. Textbooks are typically organized on this principle. Students work on one type of skill or problem in one chapter and then switch to a different skill or type of problem in the next chapter and so forth. In contrast, interleaved practice involves working on multiple skills or types of problems in one practice session. You work on a type X problem then a type Y then a type Z then another type Y, an X and so forth.

Research indicates that interleaving the problem types produces better learning than blocked practice (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham, 2013). For example, in one study college students learned about the painting styles of 12 artists through either blocked or interleaved practice. In the blocked condition, they saw multiple paintings from the same artist and then moved on to multiple paintings by another artist. In the interleaved condition, the paintings from different artists were interspersed, e.g., they saw a painting from artist X, then one by artist Y and so forth. To assess their knowledge of painting styles, students were shown paintings they had not yet seen and were asked to identify the artists. Students who had the interleaved practice were much better able to identify the artists and artistic styles than students in blocked practice. 

Examples 

Use interleaved practice sessions. Ask students to work on several different types of concepts or skills in a single assignment or study session. 

Tips to Implement Interleaved Practice Effectively

  • Explain to students why you use interleaving and why it works. Students may be skeptical about the effectiveness of interleaved practice. During blocked practice sessions students look like they are learning better or faster. Consequently, they may assume blocked practice is the best approach. To convince students that interleaving works show them the results of studies and/or use an in-class exercise to demonstrate the effectiveness of interleaving.    

Resources


Cerbin, W. (2015). Interleaved practice. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from http://www.uwlax.edu/catl/teaching-guides/teaching-improvement-guide/how-can-i-improve/interleaved-practice/.