Malcolm Gladwell may or may not have been completely right when he claimed that becoming a true expert in any subject requires 10,000 hours of practice, but whether his exact number stands up to scrutiny, the underlying truth still holds--getting good at things is time-consuming and involves a lot of hard work.

No one can change that basic fact, but research may have found a way to soften it a little. Science has uncovered a simple way to speed learning. Why aren't more people aware of it?

More variety means quicker learning

That's the question most people would ask themselves after reading a recent PsyBlog post outlining the practice, known as “interleaving.” The idea is simple. If you want to learn quicker, don't simply repeat the same thing over and over, trying to perfect it. Mix up your skills, working on various aspects of a subject or activity during a single practice session.

“When interleaving, tennis players might practice forehands, backhands, and volleys altogether. Interleaving for musicians could mean practicing scales, arpeggios, and chords all in the same session,” the post offers as examples, though it cautions that learning this way may initially feel harder than focusing on a single skill.

Still, it's an easy enough way to approach practice, and it's validated by research in a number of domains. Earlier studies showed that it could help athletes perfect their game, but recent investigations conclude that the same principle holds for kids learning math as well. For the study, one group was taught in the traditional way--a lesson about a single math concept--while a second class learned through interleaving, jumping around among different math skills to complete a task.

The second bunch came out the clear winners. “On a test one day later, the students who'd been using the interleaving method did 25 percent better. But when tested a month later, the interleaving method [users] did 76 percent better,” PsyBlog reports.

With benefits that big, it seems surprising how few of us have heard of interleaving, but PsyBlog explains that up to now, knowledge of the technique has largely been confined to professors and scientists. “For years now, ‘interleaving’ has been a secret largely confined to researchers,” it notes. Maybe it's time for that to change.

Have you heard of or used interleaving previously?