Block practicing is when you focus on learning one skill at a time. You practice a skill repetitively for a period of time and then you move onto another skill and repeat the process. Interleaving practice on the other hand involves working on multiple skills in parallel.
Studying a single skill or topic in one sitting is how we’ve been trained to learn our whole lives. At school, students are given a block of time for mathematics, literature or science, where they’ll have one concept or strategy drilled into them. After this, they’ll move on to their next class, where again they’ll focus on solving one particular type of problem or memorising a specific set of rules before moving on to the next lesson.
This method of learning is what researchers call ‘blocking’ or ‘massed practice,’ and while it might be the norm, numerous studies indicate that spacing out our learning and varying the type of materials we study in each session is more effective than focusing on just one skill at a time.
Spaced learning involves returning to a topic at regular intervals over the space of a few weeks or months, as opposed to studying one topic in just one sitting or over the course of a week and then moving on to the next one.
What Research Says About Interleaved Practice
While cramming a lot of information the night before an exam might help you pass, there’s a good chance you won’t remember much of what you studied a few days or weeks down the line. Interleaved practice, on the other hand, is great for long term retention.
Professor of psychology and director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab Dr. Robert Bjork explains that because interleaving requires us to constantly retrieve information, we’re able to extract more general rules and transfer them to multiple areas of learning.