The Optimization of Learning Benefits through Hybrid Practice Schedules
Interleaving the problems of different to-be-learned concepts (a1c1b1c2b2a2b3c3a3), rather than blocking the problems by concept (a1a2a3b1b2b3c1c2c3), enhances the inductive learning of those concepts, arguably because the former promotes discriminative contrast––juxtaposing problems from concepts highlights critical differences across them. This benefit, known as the interleaving effect, has been demonstrated multiple times throughout literature. While majority of research reports better concept retention under interleaved practice, some studies also report the opposite— that is, blocked practice produces greater learning gains compared to interleaved practice, partly due to concept characteristics (e.g., concept structure). In the current study, we shift our focus away from the debate of which schedule is better to when both schedules can be utilized to optimize learning benefits. Specifically, we examined the possible benefits of hybrid schedules (e.g., practicing problems of new concepts in a blocked manner before interleaving with other concepts). In the current experiment, participants studied six statistical concepts, each with six illustrative problems in one of three randomly assigned conditions: pure interleaved (a1b1c1a2b2c2a3b3c3), pure blocked (a1a2a3b1b2b3c1c2c3) or blocked to interleaved (a1a2b1b2c1c2a3b3c3). In the final test, they were given new problems and asked to identify which statistics concept was illustrated. Final test performance was the highest when concepts were practiced through the hybrid schedule, suggesting that perhaps participants need to initially encode within-concept similarities (done through blocking) and gain initial mastery over subject material before they can encode and benefit from learning the between-concept differences (done through interleaving).