01/09/2014 12:53 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How You Practice -- Not Just How Long -- Matters, Too

Tetra Images via Getty Images

Everyone knows that to get good at something, you need to practice. But a new study shows that it also matters how you practice, and not just how how long you practice.

People who played an online game seemed to pick up on the game more quickly if they spaced out their practice, or if they spent more time exploring the inner workings of the game when starting to learn how to play it, according to the study, published in the journal Psychological Science.

"The study suggests that learning can be improved -- you can learn more efficiently or use the same practice time to learn to a higher level," study researcher Tom Stafford, of the University of Sheffield, said in a statement. "As we live longer, and as more of our lives become based around acquiring complex skills, optimal learning becomes increasingly relevant to everyone."

The study involved 854,064 people who played the game Axon, which involves clicking on targets in order to help a neuron go from connection to connection. All the participants spent the same amount of time practicing the game.