One thing I’ve been ruminating about lately is if the benefits of interleaving are due to it being a form of spaced practice, or if it does offer its own unique benefits. The benefits of spaced practice are already well-known, and has been recommended by many education experts for decades. According to some experts interleaving is just a form of spaced practice, according to others it isn’t.
However, a key difference between spaced practice and interleaving is that spaced practice usually involves learning the same thing, but spaced apart by a significant length of time. Sometimes the gap between practice sessions is 30 minutes, sometimes several hours. This article got me thinking: Interleaving: are we getting it all wrong?
Interleaving, on the other hand, usually involves learning variations of the same skill, at least according to some practitioners(there’s a lot of debate if interleaving works best only for similar skills rather than totally unrelated material). In my case with the unicycle, or tin whistle, I practice the same exact skill on 2 or more different sized unicycles, sometimes at 10 minute intervals(ABABABA). In other words, is the learning deeper if I learn to juggle or play tin whistle on a 20″ unicycle, or both a 20″ and 24″ unicycle?
My anecdotal experience suggests that yes it does, and in an earlier post on interleaving I did post some evidence supporting this. If you learn the same skill with different equipment, that gives your brain more data points to work with, deepening the learning, and potentially helping you learn faster. I rarely use a true spaced practice approach.
Obviously more research is needed, but until then I’ll continue to use an interleaving approach since I’m obviously doing well using it.
A few weeks ago I did a post about interleaving and for the most part I’ve been using this innovative learning strategy for learning new unicycle skills since then. In case you’ve forgotten, interleaving is a learning strategy that involves mixing things up instead of focusing on just one skill at a time. So far it appears to be working.
As you can see in the video I figured out how to juggle while idling one-footed(at least that’s how unicyclists would describe it). I even figured how to do the tricky two to one foot transition in only one practice session; I assumed it would take longer to learn the transition. Instead of a long block practice approach, I interleaved learning this skill with the closely related juggling while unicycling backwards. I would focus on one skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then switch to the other skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then back to the first skill, in an ABABA pattern for about 50 minutes to an hour or more. Of course in this heat breaks are very important.
It took a mere few weeks to learn juggling while idling one-footed though I can’t do it that well yet. I think interleaving did give me a learning boost. I also think the fact that it’s just an extension of juggling while idling two-footed, which I can do competently, was also a big help. There’s a lot of overlap, it’s really not that distinct of a skill in other words.
Since juggling while one-footed idling is a more challenging version of juggling while idling, I think it’s helping me polish my juggling while two-footed idling(sometimes the key to mastering something is to practice the more complex variation of what you’re trying to learn— you don’t even have to do the more complex variation that well to benefit from it). It would be interesting to see what happens if I try interleaving with skills that are unrelated.
It also helps that I mixed it up with juggling while unicycling backwards, which I can almost do competently now. Idling and backwards are related skills and if you can do one well it helps with learning the other. Idling is, after all, going forwards and backwards just a little.
So if you’re on a learning plateau with anything, consider experimenting with an interleaving approach or at least trying variations of what you’re trying to learn.