Friday, June 15, 2018

Interleaving for Retention: Learning for the Long Term

I must confess that when I originally heard the term interleaving, I thought it was perhaps a technique involving a loom or, a term used for someone whose efforts to vacate a premise had been abruptly and repeatedly, thwarted. It turns out I was wrong on both counts. As I learned more about the technique, I came to the revelatory conclusion that I had, in fact, been employing the strategy without consciously knowing it! Enter the power of metacognition.

If you are one of those individuals that tends to prefer jumping in and between pieces of information, reading ahead, skipping passages and then moving back, this seemingly erratic behavior may be to your benefit. I excitedly directed my energies to further unpack the extent of the practice in hopes it could explain my incessant tendency to move from one task or concept to another. While I could not rationalize the sum of my distracted approaches to learning (deep sigh), it did explain the impetus behind some of my cognitive tendencies. The brief video below captures the essence of interleaving and its powerful impact on increasing memory:

The concept of interleaving takes the methodical, step-by-step approach out of the learning process and changes it up, by staggering the way the material is presented while incorporating reviews of content previously introduced. Interleaving two related sets of information during learning, will improve the ability to transfer that learning to more complex, integrated problems (Richland, Bjork, Finley, & Linn, 2005).

Teachers can introduce and review content with students by timing the appearance of modules through learning management systems, alternating when they are displayed, thereby staggering the natural course of when that material would have traditionally appeared. For example, when once historical dates would have made available in chronological order, the interleaving approach would ignore the timeline of events, jumping back and forth between dates, with students asked to periodically recall information from prior modules. Professors at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard speak to the benefits of interleaving and how clickers and mobile applications can be utilized to facilitate its integration into the classroom:

While social media and the intrepid, unyielding power of the web 2.0 landscape relentlessly vies for my undivided attention, I lay claim to the small victory embedded in the compulsion to approach content out of sequence and plead “interleaving” in my defense.


Nowak, Z., Bossen, C. (2017, January 10). Interleaving for better student learning [Video File]. Retrieved from

Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L., & McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Make it stick. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Century Tech iDEA. (2016). Interleaved Learning [Video File]. Retrieved from

Richland, L. E., Bjork, R. A., Finley, J. R., & Linn, M. C. (2005). Linking cognitive science to education: generation and interleaving effects. In B. G. Bara, L. Barsalou, & M. Bucciarelli (Eds.), Proceedings of the twenty-seventh annual conference of the cognitive science society. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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