There is an interesting article in TIME magazine – Practice, Made Perfect? – that examines the 10,000 hours of practice theory that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Outliers. Although the case study was golf, the findings may have implications in many other fields.
The article in a nutshell:
On 10,000 Hours of Practice
- Clocking the 10,000 hours is not as important as what you do with those hours. It’s not enough to just go through the motions of practicing. It must be deliberate, dedicated practice that is focussed on improvement.
- 10,000 hours is simply a ball park figure. Don’t use it as a measure. The essential take-home message is that lots and lots of practice is required.
What is Interleaving?
It is essentially a method of practice or learning different skills at the same time. For instance, in baseball batting practice, instead of hitting 15 fastballs, then 15 curveballs, then 15 change-ups, practice hitting random pitches.
- Tennis players might practice forehands, backhands and volleys altogether.
- For musicians, it could mean practising scales, arpeggios and chords all in the same session.
- In Maths, it might involve working on assignments that require different mathematical techniques at the same time.
Interleaving differs to the traditional way of learning where we usually focus on one technique before moving on to another. Tennis players work on forehands before they move to a different stroke. Musicians practice scales before arpeggios. Math classes focus on one skill before teaching another.
How Effective is Interleaving?
It has been theorised that if teachers taught subjects in smaller, randomised chunks, students might gain a deeper understanding of the material. This seems to agree with an article I recall reading on study practices some time back where they recommended changing subjects during a study period rather than slogging through one subject at a time because your recall and learning potential is greater when you chop and change rather than focus only on one subject at a time.
Interleaving gives the brain a better workout because mixing tasks provides just enough stress to trigger the release of a hormone called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) in the hippocampus, the brain area central to memory and learning. CRF strengthens synapses. During blocked practice, by contrast, you’re not reloading your circuitry by trying different tasks, you’re under less stress, and your brain is bored and less engaged.”
In a study on interleaving:
- Students who used interleaving performed 25% better on a test one day later.
- When tested one month later, they performed 76% better.
So if you want to help your child learn faster and better, perhaps you should start incorporating the interleaving technique into his practice…
The Downside of Interleaving?
Since you have to work on more than one skill at a time, interleaving can feel a lot harder than regular methods of learning. Then again, forcing the mind to work harder is likely the reason why this method is more effective.
More about Interleaving
If this article has caught your attention, take a look at the following articles and studies:
- Interleaving – Rethinked
- Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts
- The effects of interleaving versus blocking on foreign language pronunciation learning
- Robert Bjork: Remembering, Forgetting, and Desirable Difficulties – Robert Bjork is the scientist behind the concept of interleaving as a training method
More about Studying
On studying – these articles provide study techniques that improve learning and recall:
- Everything you knew about learning is wrong
- The Trouble with Homework
- Study Techniques that Improve Learning – Take Notes by Hand
- Spaced Learning – Increasing Retention of Information
- Study Techniques that Improve Your Child’s Learning
- Science Says: Best Ways to Study
- Making Learning Count: 32 Ways to Learn Better