How to accelerate your learning

Shuffling cards - interleaving a split deck

Photo – author’s own.

Would you like to accelerate your learning? Master things more quickly? Here’s how.

An effective way to train your brain is by practising things in parallel. This applies to learning concepts or physical skills. The technique is called “interleaving”.

What is interleaving?
Interleaving involves practising several related skills by mixing them up or “interleaving” them. Instead of practising one skill in a block until you have it mastered, this technique proposes practising skills together.

…practice  several related skills together (like forming a pattern “ABCABCABC”) …
Pan, 2015.

Some examples:

  • a pianist alternates practice between scales, chords, and arpeggios, or
  • a tennis player alternates practice between forehands, backhands, and volleys.

Various studies show that the learning is not only more effective than practising or learning things in blocks, it is more effective in the long term. Like many techniques, it requires more effort to do this. That means it may seem more difficult and progress may feel more gradual, but perseverance will pay off.

How does it work?
Interleaving requires the brain to tell apart, or discriminate, between concepts or skills. It is a shift away from rote learning. It requires higher order work from the brain to continuously focus on searching for different solutions.

As a process it improves your ability to learn critical features of skills and concepts, which then better enables you to select and execute the correct response.
Pan, 2015.

This also puts an emphasis on memory associations. When you focus on learning or practising one thing in a block, it engages a single strategy and draws on short-term memory.

With interleaving, the correct solution changes from one practice attempt to the next. You are required to retrieve different responses and bring them from long term into short-term memory, continually. This process reinforces neural connections between different tasks and correct responses.

The connections are built between different “chunks” of knowledge. Chunks are made up of information or concepts bound together through meaning or use. Chunks are built from an understanding of the basic idea developed through focused and undivided attention and practice. Once the chunks are in place, interleaving can occur.

Interleaving enhances learning in three ways:

  • deepening learning
  • building flexibility, and
  • building creativity.

What about you and your learning?
Are you up for learning or mastering anything new? Perhaps you could try this technique?

Here’s what you do:

  1. Get some understanding of your basic idea.
  2. Practise solving problems or skills associated with the idea.
  3. Then mix it up – solve one problem, then a different one – or practice one skill then a different one.

See how you go.  Let me know.

Sources for this post:

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