Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Putting Category Learning in Order: Category Structure and Temporal Arrangement Affect the Benefit of Interleaved over Blocked Study

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Putting Category Learning in Order: Category Structure and Temporal Arrangement Affect the Benefit of Interleaved over Blocked Study

Article excerpt

Published online: 3 October 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Recent research in inductive category learning has demonstrated that interleaved study of category exemplars results in better performance than does studying each category in separate blocks. However, the questions of how the category structure influences this advantage and how simultaneous presentation interacts with the advantage are open issues. In this article, we present three experiments. The first experiment indicates that the advantage of interleaved over blocked study is modulated by the structure of the categories being studied. More specifically, interleaved study results in better generalization for categories with high within- and between-category similarity, whereas blocked presentation results in better generalization for categories with low within- and between-category similarity. In Experiment 2, we present evidence that when presented simultaneously, between-category comparisons (interleaved presentation) result in a performance advantage for high-similarity categories, but no differences were found for low-similarity categories. In Experiment 3, we directly compared simultaneous and successive presentation of low-similarity categories. We again found an overall benefit for blocked study with these categories. Overall, these results are consistent with the proposal that interleaving emphasizes differences between categories, whereas blocking emphasizes the discovery of commonalities among objects within the same category.

Keywords Interleaving · Inductive learning · Perceptual category learning · Comparison

How to present information so that learning and memory are optimized is an important issue in teaching and training con- texts (Rohrer & Pashler, 2010). It has long been demonstrated that spacing repeated presentations of the same information results in better memory than does repeating the same infor- mation several times within a single occasion, even when time and number of presentations are equated (Ebbinghaus, 1913). This memory phenomenon, known as the "spacing effect," is a highly robust finding (Delaney, Verkoeijen, & Spirgel, 2010; Proctor, 1980) that has been shown both in experimental situations with words and pictures and in more applied situa- tions, such as flashcard studying (Kornell, 2009).

This previous work on spacing presentations is applicable to learning contexts involving the storage and retrieval of factual information. However, the importance of maximizing memory for specific facts will often not be as educationally relevant as learning general concepts with an open-ended number of items. Whereas rote memorization can be used to learn the factual knowledge that veins lead the blood to the heart, open-ended concept learning and induction is required to reliably categorize cross-sectional slides of arteries and veins. Pedagogically speaking, it is often important to know whether the way that instances are presented influences in- ductive learning and subsequent generalization of the acquired knowledge.

The question of how to present information in order to optimize category learning and generalization has been raised before, and several proposals have been put forward. Some of these proposals are related to the categories being taught. For example, Elio and Anderson (1984; see also Sandhofer & Doumas 2008) have proposed that learning should start with low-variability items and that items with greater variability should be introduced later. Another proposal is that items that present the same generalization should be presented close to- gether in temporal sequence (Elio & Anderson, 1981;Mathy& Feldman, 2009). Other proposals are related to categorization difficulty. One such proposal is that items that previous learners had difficulty categorizing should be presented early to new learners (Lee, MacGregor, Bavelas, & Mirlin, 1988)orthat study should be sequenced in increasing order of complexity, from simple to complex examples (Hull, 1920; but see Spiering &Ashby,2008). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.