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Faria Sana, Veronica X Yan, and Joseph A Kim (2017)

Study sequence matters for the inductive learning of cognitive concepts

Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(1):84-98.

The sequence in which problems of different concepts are studied during instruction impacts concept learning. For example, several problems of a given concept can be studied together (blocking) or several problems of different concepts can be studied together (interleaving). In the current study, we demonstrate that the 2 sequences impact concept induction differently as they differ in the temporal spacing and the temporal juxtaposition of to-be-learned concept problems, and in the cognitive processes they recruit. Participants studied 6 problems of 3 different statistical concepts, and then were tested on their ability to correctly classify new problems on a final test. Interleaving problems of different to-be-learned concepts, rather than blocking problems by concept, enhanced classification performance, replicating the interleaving effect (Experiment 1). Introducing temporal spacing between successive problems decreased classification performance in the interleaved schedule—consistent with the discriminative-contrast hypothesis that interleaving fosters between-concept comparisons—and increased classification performance in the blocked schedule—consistent with the study-phase retrieval hypothesis that temporal spacing causes forgetting and subsequent retrieval enhances memory (Experiment 2). Temporally juxtaposing problems of concepts 3-at-a-time rather than 1-at-a-time improved overall classification performance, particularly in a blocked schedule—consistent with the commonality-abstraction hypothesis that blocking fosters within-concept comparisons (Experiment 3). All participants also completed a working memory capacity (WMC) task, findings of which suggest that the efficacy of the above study sequences may be related to individual differences in WMC.

interleaving, categorization, induction