Spacing and Interleaving Effects Require Distinct Theoretical Bases: a Systematic Review Testing the Cognitive Load and Discriminative-Contrast Hypotheses
Educational Psychology Review
Spaced and interleaved practices have been identified as effective learning strategies which sometimes are conflated as a single strategy and at other times treated as distinct. Learning sessions in which studying information or practicing problems are spaced in time with rest-from-deliberate-learning periods between sessions generally result in better learning outcomes than massed practice without rest-from-deliberate-learning periods. Interleaved practice also consists of spaced sessions, but by interleaving topics rather than having rest-from-deliberate-learning periods. Interleaving is usually contrasted with blocking in which each learning topic is taught in a single block that provides an example of massed practice. The general finding that interleaved practice is more effective for learning than blocked practice is sometimes attributed to spacing. In the current paper, the presence of rest-from-deliberate-learning periods is used to distinguish between spaced and interleaved practice. We suggest that spaced practice is a cognitive load effect that can be explained by working memory resource depletion during cognitive effort with recovery during rest-from-deliberate-learning, while interleaved practice can be explained by the discriminative-contrast hypothesis positing that interleaving assists learners to discriminate between topic areas. A systematic review of the literature provides evidence for this suggestion.
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