One of the things I love most about unicycling(and joggling) is that it’s a fun way to learn about learning. With all the different skills unicycling entails, and the difficulty of learning many of them, it’s a great opportunity to test some new learning strategies. Let’s face it, we all want to learn faster. One strategy that I recently stumbled upon is called “interleaving”, which involves mixing things up instead of focusing on one skill or area and repeating until competence is achieved. Interleaving appears to provide a boost for both academic and athletic training.
According to Scientific American, in The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning:
We’ve all heard the adage: practice makes perfect! In other words, acquiring skills takes time and effort. But how exactly does one go about learning a complex subject such as tennis, calculus, or even how to play the violin? An age-old answer is: practice one skill at a time. A beginning pianist might rehearse scales before chords. A young tennis player practices the forehand before the backhand. Learning researchers call this “blocking,” and because it is commonsensical and easy to schedule, blocking is dominant in schools, training programs, and other settings.
However another strategy promises improved results. Enter “interleaving,” a largely unheard-of technique that is capturing the attention of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. Whereas blocking involves practicing one skill at a time before the next (for example, “skill A” before “skill B” and so on, forming the pattern “AAABBBCCC”), in interleaving one mixes, or interleaves, practice on several related skills together (forming for example the pattern “ABCABCABC”). For instance, a pianist alternates practice between scales, chords, and arpeggios, while a tennis player alternates practice between forehands, backhands, and volleys.
This sounds very promising. The research suggests it works best if you interleave similar skills. I’ve already been doing something kind of similar by practicing variations of the skill I’m trying to master, but usually on different days. However, interleaving isn’t about varying your practice every few days, it’s about variation within the same practice session.
These days I’m trying to learn how to juggle while idling one-footed on the unicycle(I can already do this with both feet on the pedals). I usually use a block approach, and after practicing this would sometimes do backwards juggling in figure 8’s, which is a similar skill that I’m much better at. This week I’ll experiment with an interleaving strategy and do 5 minute intervals of one-footed idling while juggling then backwards juggling, an ABABAB pattern and see how that goes. I hope 5 minutes is long enough. I wonder what would happen if I did intervals of unrelated skills, but I’ll try that out some other time.
I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’re struggling with learning something, consider the interleaving strategy.
Variation is key to deeper learning