Growing Out of the Experience: How Subjective Experiences of Effort and Learning Influence the Use of Interleaved Practice

E. Onan*, W. Wiradhany, F. Biwer, E.M. Janssen, A.B.H. de Bruin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In higher education, many students make poor learning strategy decisions. This, in part, results from the counterintuitive nature of effective learning strategies: they enhance long-term learning but also cost high initial effort and appear to not improve learning (immediately). This mixed-method study investigated how students make learning strategy decisions in category learning, and whether students can be supported to make effective strategy decisions through a metacognitive prompt, designed to support accurate monitoring of effort and learning. Participants (N=150) studied painting styles through blocked and interleaved practice, rated their perceived effort and perceived learning across time, and chose between either blocked or interleaved practice. Half of the participants (N=74) were provided with a metacognitive prompt that showed them how their subjective experiences per strategy changed across time and required them to relate these experiences to the efficacy of learning strategies. Results indicated that subjective experiences with interleaved practice improved across time: students' perceived learning increased as their perceived effort decreased. Mediation analysis revealed that the increased feeling of learning increased the likelihood to select interleaved practice. The percentage of students who chose interleaved practice increased from 13 to 40%. Students' learning strategy decisions, however, did not benefit from the metacognitive prompt. Qualitative results revealed that students initially had inaccurate beliefs about the efficacy of learning strategies, but on-task experiences overrode the influence of prior beliefs in learning strategy decisions. This study suggests that repeated monitoring of effort and learning have the potential to improve the use of interleaved practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2451-2484
Number of pages34
JournalEducational Psychology Review
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2022


  • Self-regulated learning
  • Mental effort
  • Perceived learning
  • Desirable difficulties
  • Effective learning strategies
  • Interleaved practice


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