How to Use Interleaving for Deeper Learning

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Interleaving can deepen your ability to learn. Compare interleaving to other methods, and learn tangible and practical ways to use interleaving.

[Featured image] A learner wearing a beige sweatshirt studies for classes using a laptop and an open book.

Interleaving involves learning multiple related concepts at the same time while alternating between them. By switching between different topics or types of problems, interleaving is thought to promote the ability to discern key differences between concepts and to enhance the ability to apply and transfer knowledge to new and varied situations. 

Learn more about interleaving psychology and practical ways to use this method in your own learning.

What is interleaving?

To interleave something is to arrange it in alternate layers. Interleaving as a study method means learning more than one subject or skill and switching between them. Compare this to a "blocked practice," where you focus on a single subject for an extended period of time. 

For example, if you were learning multiplication, you might benefit from interleaving your multiplication practice with division practice. Studying the two together can help you better understand how numbers relate and illuminate the reciprocal relationship between multiplication and division.

According to cognitive psychologists, the brain learns to differentiate between the alternating concepts, in turn strengthening the learner’s memory of them. One study showed that interleaving learning boosted students’ accuracy by 43 percent [1].

In addition to math, interleaving can be effective for studying art, language, music, learning physical movements for sports, and more.

Interleaving vs. blocking: What's the difference? 

Whereas interleaving involves cycling through multiple subjects to learn each one, blocking or “blocked practice” focuses on learning or practicing one topic or skill at a time. Research shows that interleaving is more effective than blocking when learning problem-solving and categorization skills. Research also indicates that interleaving often results in more significant long-term retention and the ability to transfer knowledge to other subjects [2]


How to use interleaving to empower learning 

Whether studying for exams, learning a language, or practicing the piano, you could potentially benefit from interleaving. Let's look at a few ways you might leverage this technique to empower your learning, whatever it may look like:

  1. Mix practice problems: Instead of practicing one type of problem or concept in isolation, mix different types of problems within the same practice session. For example, when studying math, you could interleave problems related to algebra, geometry, and calculus to promote flexible thinking and problem-solving skills.

  2. Vary subjects: If you're studying for multiple exams or courses, try interleaving the subjects within your study sessions. For example, you could spend some time studying history, followed by chemistry, and then English literature. This can help reduce boredom and promote active engagement with the material.

  3. Blend skills: If you're learning a new skill, such as a musical instrument or a sport, try interleaving different techniques or drills. For example, when practicing guitar, you could alternate between chord progressions, scales, and fingerpicking exercises.

  4. Apply concepts: Interleave the study of theoretical concepts with practical applications. For example, after learning a physics concept, you could work on problems that require you to apply the concept to real-world scenarios. This can help deepen your understanding and enhance your ability to transfer knowledge.

  5. Incorporate review: Use interleaving to review previously learned material alongside new content. By revisiting older topics, you can reinforce your memory and make connections between different areas of knowledge.

  6. Customize your approach: Tailor the interleaving strategy to your own learning goals and preferences. For example, you might decide to interleave within a single study session or alternate topics from one day to the next. Experiment with different approaches to find what works best for you.

  7. Use study aids: Use flashcards, quizzes, or online learning platforms to facilitate interleaved practice. Many study tools allow you to shuffle questions or topics, making it easy to interleave your practice.

  8. Monitor progress: Track your progress and adjust your interleaving strategy as needed. If certain topics or skills require more attention, you can adjust your study schedule to allocate more time for them.

Can I use interleaving practices to study any subject? 

Interleaving can be applied to many different subjects and practices. Research has shown that it is especially effective in learning math, but the same methodology can be used in science, economics, business, and beyond [3].

Researchers have also looked at the effects of interleaving in physical activity. One study showed that participants who varied their practice of a physical task outperformed those who only practiced in one specific way [4]. 

Musicians often use interleaving when learning music. In a study comparing interleaving and blocking in music practice, pieces practiced through interleaving were rated better than those practiced using a block schedule [5].

Choosing an interleaving pattern

When using interleaving as a learning technique, you can cycle through your material randomly or systematically.

For example, we will call our intended subjects A, B, and C. When cycling randomly, you can swap through the subjects with no rhyme or reason (ACBAABAC). Should you choose to cycle through systematically, it may be helpful to follow any of these common patterns:

ABCABCABCABC: This schedule allows you to spend a short amount of time on each subject before moving on to the next.

AABBCCAABBCC: This schedule encourages you to spend more time on each subject before cycling through to the next. 

AAABBBCCCABC: When following this schedule, you spend significant time studying each subject. After studying each subject once, you quickly review each again at the end of your study session


Become a better learner 

Learn more about interleaving and other effective learning methods with Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help you Master Tough Subjects. This course from Deep Teaching Solutions on Coursera covers actionable approaches to retain knowledge better, beat procrastination, and master tough subjects. Get started for free.

Article sources


US National Library of Medicine. “Specific and varied practice of motor skill,” Accessed April 19, 2023.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.