by Shen Li Lee

There is an interesting article in TIME magazine – Practice, Made Perfect? – that examines the 10,000 hours of practice theory that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Outliers. Although the case study was golf, the findings may have implications in many other fields.


The article in a nutshell:

On 10,000 Hours of Practice

  • Clocking the 10,000 hours is not as important as what you do with those hours. It’s not enough to just go through the motions of practicing. It must be deliberate, dedicated practice that is focussed on improvement.
  • 10,000 hours is simply a ball park figure. Don’t use it as a measure. The essential take-home message is that lots and lots of practice is required.

The Value of Interleaving

Firstly, what the heck is interleaving? It is essentially a method of practice that involves mixing things up. For instance, in baseball batting practice, instead of hitting 15 fastballs, then 15 curveballs, then 15 change-ups, practice hitting random pitches.

It was theorised that if teachers taught subjects in smaller, randomised chunks, students might gain a deeper understanding of the material. This seems to agree with an article I recall reading on study practices some time back where they recommended changing subjects during a study period rather than slogging through one subject at a time because your recall and learning potential is greater when you chop and change rather than focus only on one subject at a time.

Interleaving gives the brain a better workout because mixing tasks provides just enough stress to trigger the release of a hormone called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) in the hippocampus, the brain area central to memory and learning. CRF strengthens synapses. During blocked practice, by contrast, you’re not reloading your circuitry by trying different tasks, you’re under less stress, and your brain is bored and less engaged.”

So if you want to help your child learn faster and better, perhaps you should start incorporating the interleaving technique into his practice…

If this article has caught your attention, take a look at the following articles and studies on interleaving:

On studying – these articles provide study techniques that improve learning and recall: