Learning Strategies: Block vs. Interleaved


I’ve discussed this idea about how to practice before.

In general, a good assumption is that if learning something new (whether a musical instrument or a new subject) feels easy or good, you’re probably not doing it in the most effective manner.

Similar to my post a few weeks ago that featured a physics class, this post on the BulletproofMusician covers a similar difference in learning. Instead of physics, though, this time the study uses birds.

In this study, students were learning different bird types using two different strategies:

  • Block learning – where students see 15 of each type of bird in a group and then move on to the next bird type.
  • Interleaved learning – where the bird types are mixed up and presented in random order.

It’s probably not surprising which one of these learning strategies takes more mental effort (and was, therefore, more effective) and which one was more passive (and more appealing to the learning subjects.

Definitely read the BulletproofMusician article, but the TL;DR version of this study is that the strategy that forces the students to put more effort into learning feels less effective at the moment, but is often more effective in both the initial learning and the long-term.

If practicing feels easy, you’re probably not doing it right.

If you’re putting more effort into learning a skill – and noticing the things that need to be improved – it often feels like you aren’t making progress. It can also be very demoralizing to put lots of time and effort into something and notice how much farther you need to go.

But the only thing worse than putting lots of time and energy into practicing to make progress is putting a lot of time into something and not seeing the results.


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!