Interleaving in Library Training

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

July 06, 2021

I have taught a lot of classes over the years. However, I have wanted to do more at times to help students remember information.

Many classes were in a single session format where I would see the learners for a short period of time and introduce them to the library and the available resources. Other classes were longer where I would see learners over multiple weeks. Still other training opportunities were taught online in the form of tutorials. In all three situations, a goal was for the learners to learn and remember content.

Helping students remember content has always been a struggle for me. How do I know students will remember what I tell them? One strategy that I have used is active learning. Active learning strategies work well, and I use them when I can. In addition, I am always looking for new and creative ways to teach.

A few years ago, I was introduced to the idea of interleaving in the book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel, and Peter C Brown. Interleaving is the concept of alternating between concepts during learning instead of practicing one skill at a time. Studies have shown that interleaving content rather than presenting information in separate sections throughout a class promotes retention (Richland et al., 2005; Rohrer, 2012).

If interleaving is a new concept for you, I suggest reading about it in the book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning or reading the article in Scientific America titled “The Interleaving Effect: Mixing it Up Boosts Learning” by Steven C. Pan. In the article, Pan shared research on interleaving and discussed the science behind the concept. When the brain is forced to jump back and forth between content, researchers hypothesize that the brain creates stronger associations and is better able to tell differences between information.

In sessions we teach as librarians, we may not have the ability to incorporate interleaving to the extent we would like. However, we can still encourage the practice. For example, share something at the beginning of a training session (e.g. how to request an article through interlibrary loan), share something else (e.g. how to contact the librarian), then ask learners to practice requesting an article through interlibrary loan. This process of having to work with information on two separate occasions is the core of interleaving.

Your teaching situations are all unique, but I encourage you to pause to reflect on where you can include interleaving in your training. Your learners may just remember more than you expect!


Pan, S. C. (2015). The interleaving effect: Mixing it up boosts learning. Scientific America.

Richland, L. E., Bjork, R. A., Finley, J. R., & Linn, M. C. (2005). Linking cognitive science to education: Generation and interleaving effects. In Proceedings of the twenty-seventh annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society (Vol. 27, pp. 1850-55).

Roediger, H. L., McDaniel, M. A., & Brown, P. C. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Belknap Press.

Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 355-367.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets

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