Interleaving—Performance Enhanced Learning

‘Performance-enhancing’ is a term synonymous with cheating, but a recent Athabasca University study focusing on boosting student retention in classrooms indicates that there is a new approach to learning which might truly enhance performance.  This approach is called “interleaving”, and it allows for students to better retain and recall information weeks, months, and even years after they learn it. It is a potential game-changer that could provide learners with an advantage in today’s competitive world. Best of all, it is an all-natural approach that revolves around changing the way learning is delivered to students.

Normal, or “memory solutions” are short-term learning solutions. These pattern-based solutions tend to be counterproductive when it comes to problem-solving and mechanical skills, and they are not always helpful in building a strong foundation of understanding. Therefore, a concentrated focus on a single topic can provide the illusion of mastery in the short-term, but never in a lasting way.

Interleaving is the process of mixing different topics and skills while learning, which improves the long-term memory retention of the information that is being learned. While new learning has always been more difficult and has demanded a lot from us, interleaving requires learners to be even more focused and attentive, but is significantly more effective in the long-term and with memorization, and it is fair to say that the trade-offs are worth it.

As children, we naturally try to decode things as we strive to make sense of the world’s workings, but our learning is typically in pursuit of a purpose, of solving a problem of some sort.  When you mix up your learning you make your brain understand the context better, since the brain tends to look for patterns and connections that help us solve problems.  Interleaving can be described as a form of problem-based learning, where the need-to-solve-a-problem memory is associated with the problem.  To effectively apply this learning strategy, it is important to ensure that the skills are related in some way.  The interleaving approach to learning is one that values learning that creates lasting and transferable understanding beyond the immediate.

While interleaving is a good learning strategy for students, it should also be an integral part of curriculum design and an educator’s approach to teaching material because it prioritizes skills and knowledge.  For learning to be both applicable and transferable, there needs be a level of interleaving material in that curriculum.  Curriculum design would depend on the subject at hand and how they build on one another.  If we value long-term learning, we must highlight learning priorities and devalue the short-term benefits of cramming.


Ates, O., & Eryilmaz, A. (2010). Strengths And Weaknesses Of Problem-Based Learning In Engineering Education: Students’ And Tutors’ Perspectives. Retrieved from

Pan, S. (2015, August 4). “The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning.”, Scientific American., Retrieved from

Sana, F. (2018). Investigating the Interleaving Effect in Classrooms to Boost Student Retention. Athabasca University.

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