Learn Slower to Learn Faster

Learn faster and retain more by spreading out your learning

Learn Slower to Learn Faster

I help coach my son’s baseball team, and as typical, when I am pitching batting practice, I like to change up the pitches. Some are fast balls, some are change ups, and some are curve balls. One of the kids finally asked me why I don’t just throw all fastballs, then all changeups, as he will then hit them better. I told him that he will actually learn how to hit all those pitches better and faster if he learns them all at the same time, rather than just hitting the fast balls, and then just hitting the changeups.

Using a non-sports analogy, this is similar to teaching someone how to play the piano by having them practice scales, arpeggios, and chords as a part of the same practice session. This process is called interleaving, and according to one study, drastically increases your ability to master competencies and retain that knowledge longer.

Why can’t we apply this method to the business world? Learning new skills is one of the best ways to make yourself both marketable and increase your job satisfaction. Traditionally, ever since we were in school, we tend to learn things in blocks. We learn everything there is to know about a given competency and then move on to the next one. However, by spacing out your learning of that competency, and by learning other related competencies at the same time, you will master these competencies faster.

Why? Because your brain has time to learn all the introductions of each competency and then when it’s time to learn more about them, you are building your knowledge on that previous learning experience. In addition, it helps the brain’s ability to differentiate concepts. If you learn traditionally, you are following more rote techniques that don’t help differentiate. Interleaving helps reduce the ‘forgetting curve’ and helps you master the competency.

How can you take advantage of this?

In today’s business world, tasks never come to us in a logical or linear order. To stay on top of things, you may be switching between learning multiple topics quickly. To be successful, you need to be able to develop several related skills at once, which will train your brain to solve a variety of obstacles when they arise. Interleaving will help prepare you for this as it helps you develop focus on searching for different responses and reactions. It helps you see the forest through the trees, so to speak.

Learn related competencies

Interleaving works by allowing us to notice similarities and differences among the things we are learning, which leads to deeper understanding. This works when you are learning related competencies. Traditional schools and continuing education teach you topics like English, Accounting, or even specific flavors of Math, such as Geometry and Algebra in blocks. However, with interleaving, you could devote some time during a study session to 3 related topics like understanding data, visualizing data, and data modeling for example. Then, you can cycle back through the topics, potentially studying the topics in a different order and using different learning strategies (like watching videos the first time and then hands-on activities in the second round).

We don’t learn by what goes into the mind, but by what comes out of it

One of the main benefits of interleaving is it allows you to think about how what you are learning applies to your previous experiences. You think about how the concepts are related and also how they are different. This will aid in your ability to think critically and recall the information when needed.

So next the time you're planning on learning something new and aren't sure how to go about it, keep in mind that taking your time is key to mastery.

Want to learn how to help your brain learn faster and make better connections? Kevin Hanegan explains why taking your time is key.

 

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