How Mixing Up Your Learning Helps You Deal With the Einstellung Effect
In this article, you will learn about the interleaving effect. You will also learn how mixing up your learning can help you avoid unnecessary overlearning and deal with the Einstellung effect.
Pause and Think: “Are you wasting valuable learning time?”
When Overlearning is Helpful and When it’s not
Overlearning involves practicing newly acquired skills beyond the point of initial mastery to get to a level of automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required. This allows it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. Automaticity is usually the result of learning through repetition and practice. Examples of automaticity are common activities such as walking, speaking, and driving a car.
After an activity is sufficiently practiced, you can focus the mind on other activities while undertaking the automatized activity. For example, holding a conversation while walking or driving a car.
How You Might Be Wasting Valuable Learning Time
When learning a new idea, such as a new concept, or a new problem solving approach, repetitive practice is very important. But continuing to study or practice after you’ve mastered what you should in a particular learning session is one situation where overlearning is not very effective.
Overlearning is very helpful when you need to produce the kind of automaticity required for a presentation. Examples include an important speech or a piano concert where automaticity helps deal with nervousness. However, in our daily learning, research has shown that overlearning can be a waste of valuable learning time.
Once you’ve got the basic idea during a learning session, continuing to do it repeatedly during the same session doesn’t necessarily create the kind of flexible long-term memory connections you need. Focusing on one technique for a long period is like trying to learn the work of an auto-mechanic by simply changing tyres repeatedly or learning hairdressing by simply plaiting a particular hairstyle over and over. After a while, you begin to feel like you can do any kind of car servicing or hairdressing.
You have to be cautious, because repeating something you already know perfectly well is easy and you know it. It can also give you the illusion of competence that you’ve mastered the full range of material or skill, when you’ve probably only mastered the easy stuff.
The Einstellung Effect: When Good Ideas Prevent You From Seeing Better Ones
The Einstellung effect is sometimes but not always as a result of over-learning. In this phenomenon, your initial simple thought, an idea you already have in mind or a neural pattern you’ve already developed and strengthened through practice, may prevent a better idea or solution from being found.
Once you see a possible solution in your head, perhaps one you’ve used many times, you might have a really tough time approaching the problem from a fresh perspective. A study has shown that chess players become less flexible and prone to settle for sub-optimal solutions as they reach a certain level of expertise.
The German word “einstellung” means “mindset” which indicates that the Einstellung effect can be thought of as installing a roadblock in your mind because of the way you’re used to looking at something.
This kind of wrong approach is especially easy to do in sports and science as well as many other disciplines, because sometimes your initial intuition about what’s happening or what you need to be doing can be misleading.
The Interleaving Effect: How Mixing It Up Helps You Learn More Effectively
Studying related skills or concepts in parallel is a surprisingly effective way to avoid the Einstellung effect. Interleaving is an approach to learning that involves practicing, jumping back and forth between problems or situations that require different techniques or strategies.
Instead of practicing one skill or technique at a time before the next, in interleaving, you mix or interleave your practice on several related skills or techniques together. For example, instead of mastering “technique A” before “technique B” and so on, forming the pattern “AAABBBCCC”, you interleave your learning, forming the pattern “ABCABCABC”. A pianist might alternate practice between scales, chords, and arpeggios, while a tennis player alternates practice between forehands, backhands and volleys.
Researchers are now working to understand why interleaving yields impressive results when learning. A popular explanation is that it improves the brain’s ability to tell apart, or discriminate, between concepts and another explanation is that interleaving strengthens memory associations.
You want to balance your studied by deliberately focusing on other concepts or techniques you find more difficult. This focusing on what’s more difficult is called deliberate practice and it’s often what makes the difference between a good learner and a great learner.
Are you studying mathematics? Learning to play a musical instrument? Trying out a new sport? In each of these areas, there are usually a series of techniques or concepts to learn. We would usually prefer to practice each of these, one at a time, over and over. But a better option would be to mix up what you practice.
Interleaving often feels counter-intuitive and difficult at the onset. But the added effort can generate better, longer-lasting results and help you become a more creative learner. Skipping around through problems in different chapters and materials can be quite brain-tasking. But in reality, it helps you learn more deeply and richly.
Repetitive practice on a particular concept or technique is important in helping you build solid neural patterns. However, it’s interleaving and spaced repetition that helps you build flexible and creative patterns. Interleaving helps you transition from the world of rote practice and repetition to the world of independent and creative thinking.
What do you think about the ideas shared in this article about overlearning, einstellung and interleaving? In what ways do you think you can apply interleaving in your learning? Share your thoughts below.