I have read in Barbara Oakley's texts and How Learning Works (Lovett et al.) that interleaving improves students' achievement. However, this seems to contradict the warning against multitasking that I've seen in other books, including Jeff Sutherland's books (like Scrum), The One Thing (Keller and Papasan), Essentialism (McKeown), or even the very Barbara Oakley texts! I am aware that these are popular books and did not follow peer-review in the formal sense. However, other people are also reading these books and may benefit from a discussion on how to resolve these apparent contradictions.

I have not done research on this, but I have two hypotheses: one is that interleaving does involve a performance cost. The choice of words for "desirable difficulty" has me thinking that battling the attention residue left by changing tasks is exploiting the levels of processing effect. In other words, the act of changing tasks roughens the thinking terrain before you and makes thinking harder, but if you think through that rough terrain, you'll have learned better.

My other hypothesis is that the mechanisms that make interleaving desirable are not tied to the mechanisms that make multitasking undesirable. In this case, these two (mostly) independent variables (interleaving and multitasking) can be optimized like a calculus problem. You just find the right amount of each.

I could be wrong either way.



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