Visit the Learning to Learn Home Page to learn about all of the strategies in the series.

What is interleaving?

How does a interleaving help?

Interleaving is a process where students mix, or interleave, multiple subjects or topics while they study in order to improve their learning. Blocked practice, on the other hand, involves studying one topic very thoroughly before moving to another topic. Interleaving has been shown to be more effective than blocked practice for developing the skills of categorization and problem solving; interleaving also leads to better long-term retention and improved ability to transfer learned knowledge. This strategy forces the brain to continually retrieve because each practice attempt is different from the last, so rote responses pulled from short-term memory won’t work. Cognitive psychologists believe that interleaving improves the brain’s ability to differentiate, or discriminate, between concepts and strengthens memory associations. Because interleaving involves retrieval practice, it is more difficult than blocked practice. It is important to remember that effortful studying feels worse but produces better long-term results.

What are some interleaving strategies?

To interleave while studying, students should choose several topics and spread them throughout their study sessions. The topics can be from the same or different subjects, but some experts believe that this strategy is most beneficial when the subjects are related in some way. For example, during a study session, a student could devote some time to math, some time to chemistry, some time to biology and then cycle back through the topics, possibly studying the topics in a different order and using different study strategies. Changing things up forces students to retrieve information and make new connections between the topics: for example, how is this topic in biology related to what was just studied in chemistry? It is important to devote enough time to each topic to ensure that a deeper understanding is achieved each time the topic is studied. Learners should be careful not to use interleaving as an excuse to switch to another subject when the current subject becomes too challenging. Instead, they should persist in one subject until they have a sense of accomplishment before moving on to another subject.

How do we inspire students to use interleaving strategies

Strategy Toolkit for Instructors

Below are useful resources that can be used during class to encourage students to incorporate Learning to Learn strategies in their studies. The Toolkit includes links to more information about a specific strategy as well as the Learning to Learn Blog which provides an opportunity to engage in lively discussion with colleagues about creative ways to promote effective learning strategies for your students.