We throw around quite a few learning theory vocabulary words, and we know it can be confusing. In particular, we're often asked the difference between interleaving and spaced retrieval. Basically, interleaving is studying multiple topics during one study session, and spaced retrieval is the repeated recall of key information in a progressively delayed manner.
For example, to use the method of interleaving, you would study many different topics during the same study session. So, you might review cardiology Preview | Review Questions, then read a section in the Core on endocrinology, and then finish up your study session with Q&As from the immunology section. That way you are studying many different topics at a time. Interleaving is effective because it allows your brain to work on recall for a variety of topics—meaning it gives your brain a better study session than reviewing one topic at a time—which helps lock the must-know information into your long-term memory.
Spaced Retrieval is studying the same topic at different times. So on day 1, you would review Preview | Review questions about Rheumatology. On day 2, you would read the Rheumatology section and answer questions from your Q&A. Then the same Preview | Review questions would appear in the Spaced Retrieval section of your Personal Trainer at progressively longer intervals of time. To really lock the topic into your long-term memory, you'd practice recall on Rheumatology 2 days after initial studying, 10 days, 4 weeks, and then 4 months.
ProTip: Personal Trainer will set up a study plan for you using spaced retrieval! It will present topics to review in the Spaced Retrieval module at the correct intervals of time, so you don't have to keep track. Try Personal Trainer now!
Now that you have a good idea of what the difference between interleaving and spaced retrieval is, let's dive a little deeper!
Why is interleaving effective?
When you do it, it may feel like you are not getting much learning done and like you're bouncing back and forth between too many different topics. But don't give up! Interleaving has been proven to enhance not only the encoding but also the cognitive processing involved with learning.
Here's why it works so well:
- Increased attention: Once you start studying this way, you will see that you remain fresher and have better focus throughout the study session.
- Practicing recall: Bouncing back and forth between topics can be thought of as mini retrieval practice. The more often you recall knowledge, the better your grasp of it and the stronger your memory of it.
- Contrast and compare: Mixing concepts forces you to contrast and compare similar information in different topics, thereby building newer and stronger connections to and between concepts and developing a more robust understanding of each. You don’t get this benefit from studying one topic at a time.
- Active learning: Interleaving is active learning—you are constantly thinking about what you are doing and are directing all your own efforts. This helps you maintain focus and deepens your learning.
Why is spaced retrieval effective?
Retrieval is the process of recalling a memory. Recalling the memory is an end in itself, but every time retrieval occurs, another round of the memory storage process occurs—the memory, along with any new information, is reencoded and then automatically reconsolidated over hours to days. Each round of recall, reencoding, and reconsolidation results in a memory that is more robust, better defined, more durable, and more easily recalled.
Repeated recall of information over weeks and months can make it easily accessible in your memory for the long-term. Purposefully repeating the process of recalling previously-learned information is called retrieval practice, and doing retrieval practice on the same material multiple times with progressively longer periods between is called spaced retrieval. In the following text, “strength” is used to reflect both storage and retrieval strengths.
Spaced retrieval is the most effective way to lock the study material into long-term memory! Want more information about how spaced retrieval works? Get StudyWise now and read up on the best ways to learn for the long term.
How Personal Trainer incorporates interleaving and spaced retrieval
Preview, Study, and then use the Spaced Retrieval module in the Personal Trainer.
It would be a full-time job to keep up with the complex calendaring of multiple study units AND fully implement a 3-phased system that first requires you to preview the study unit, then study it, and then move the study unit into long-term memory using spaced retrieval with progressively longer times between sessions. So, we decided to do that for you by making Personal Trainer!
Your first study topics will start off in the far right “Preview” column. Click on each study unit to see its associated preview questions. Use this opportunity to recall everything you can remember about the study material before you start studying. This primes your brain for the studying you will do the next day.
The day after you’ve previewed a study unit, you’ll see it move to the “Study” column on the far left. If you have the digital Core you can click on each topic to instantly read in your Digital Core, and if you have Qbank+ you can click through to start answering questions for each topic in your Qbank+.
A few days after you’ve completed a study unit, you’ll see it pop up in the middle “Review” column. Click on each unit to test your understanding with review questions and read content from the Digital Core covering each topic. Take the time to remember all the material you covered that is relevant to the answer. After you complete these units you’ll see them pop up in this column every now and then at increasing intervals (this is where the spaced retrieval comes in!). This is key to moving your knowledge into easily accessible long-term memory.
Finish off your study session by previewing the topics you'll study next week in the "Preview" column, so you can prime your brain to start the cycle all over again next time. By the time your study session is over, you will have used the method of interleaving by studying multiple topics at a time.
Personal Trainer will check in weekly to review what you accomplished and ask if you want to keep the same study pace for the next week. It will also recommend the ideal study pace for you to hit your end goal. Once you confirm your study pace, your study board will update with the next week's study material.