A Systematic Review of Interleaving as a Concept Learning Strategy

A Study Protocol

Keywords: Interleaving, memory, transfer, concept learning, education, spacing, attainment challenge, working memory


Education Scotland’s (2018) framework for interventions for equity supporting the Scottish Attainment Challenge highlights the promotion of high quality learning and the effective use of evidence and data. This study protocol outlines the methodology of a systematic review of the literature into the use of interleaving to facilitate the effective learning and teaching of new concepts. The systematic review has been pre-registered with PROSPERO, an international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews (https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO/). The review will investigate whether presenting examples of to-be-learned concepts in an interleaved order is a more effective learning strategy than presenting examples blocked by topic, in terms of learners' ability to remember examples and to transfer learning to novel examples. Interleaving is widely recommended as an evidence-based approach to teaching with considerable potential as a strategy for learners experiencing difficulties in working memory functioning and conceptual learning, but to date there has not been a comprehensive review of the evidence base. The review will address this gap. It will synthesize primary research studies from the past decade, investigate boundary conditions and variables that interact with interleaving, and will include a meta-analysis of recent studies. This protocol provides the details of the rationale of the review, and details the inclusion criteria and approaches to data extraction.

Author Biographies

Ian Rivers, University of Strathclyde

I am currently Professor of Education for Social Change and Senior Vice-Dean for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. I was previously Head of the School of Education and currently serve as Chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education (2018-2020). I am a developmental psychologist and HCPC registered health psychologist specialising in the study of the bullying behaviour and its psychological impact. I am also a member of the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Strategic Advisory Network (2019-2022), and have served on the ESRC's Grant Assessment Panel A for four years (2015-2019).

Prior to joining Strathclyde, I was Professor of Human Development at Brunel University London (2008-2015) and served as Subject Leader (Head of Department) for Sport Sciences and subsequently served as Head of the School of Sport and Education. I have also held chairs in applied psychology (York St John University) and Community Psychology (Queen Margaret University Edinburgh where I was also Head of Psychology). Since 2010 I have been visiting professor of Anglia Ruskin University (Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care).


James Boyle, University of Strathclyde

I am Director of Postgraduate Professional Training in Educational Psychology, which encompasses the MSc in Educational Psychology and the Research Doctorate in Educational Psychologists for practitioners (DEdPsy). I also teach on the MSc in Research Methods and supervise PhD students and Honours dissertations. I am also an Honorary Professor, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh and am an Associate Editor of the British Journal of Educational Psychology and a member of the Editorial Boards of The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist and Cogent Education (Open Access). Before joining the University of Strathclyde, I worked as an Educational Psychologist in two local authority services for 12 years. I was awarded the 2011 prize for best research paper of the year by the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, and a Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Strathclyde in 2012.

My research interests include language impairment (both identification and intervention), the effects of computer games and exercise upon executive functions, bully-victim problems in schools and in the work-place, psychometrics, and the practice of educational psychology.

Study Protocols