Wired’s Garth Sundem sat down with the Robert Bjork, director of UCLA’s Learning and Forgetting Lab, to discuss how you can best “[pack] things in your brain in a way that keeps them from leaking out”. What he learned? A lot of our basic assumptions are wrong.
For example, rather than blocking out chunks of time to focus on improving one skill or subject, Bjork says you’re much better off by interleaving skill sets. As an example, Sundem explains that if you’re trying to improve your tennis serve, you’re better off working to improve your entire game than focusing specifically on your serve:
Instead of making an appreciable leap forward with your serving ability after a session of focused practice, interleaving forces you to make nearly imperceptible steps forward with many skills. But over time, the sum of these small steps is much greater than the sum of the leaps you would have taken if you’d spent the same amount of time mastering each skill in its turn.
Bjork explains that successful interleaving allows you to “seat” each skill among the others. “If information is studied so that it can be interpreted in relation to other things in memory, learning is much more powerful,” he said. There’s one caveat: Make sure the mini skills you interleave are related in some higher-order way. If you’re trying to learn tennis, you’d want to interleave serves, backhands, volleys, smashes and footwork – not serves, synchronised swimming, European capitals and programming in Java.
Check out the full post over at Wired’s GeekDad, which also clears the air on a few other common learning misconceptions.
Image: Daisy Geng.