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How to practice effectively

24 Mar

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)


2 Dec

There has been a lot of attention to the idea of developing expertise. We would like to know what are the most effective techniques for becoming an expert in any domain. Perhaps, we should take a more atomic view and study expertise in very small domains, such as this:

Niall Brady writes “It took me just under a year to get a spoon into a mug while filming it all on snapchat. One attempt a day. This is a compilation of the clips I remembered to save.”

The 10,000 hour rule backlash

15 Aug

The 10,000 hour rule was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. As we have noted here there were a number of serious problems with the kind of claims made on its behalf, in particular claims that talent is illusory and superior performance is only the result of intensive practice. Now the reservations, previously voiced in academic journals, are beginning to make themselves felt in the popular press. Witness this article in The Washington Post:

“That rule was in turn loosely based on a 1993 study of accomplished violinists in Berlin, which found that the most accomplished students had spent 10,000 hours practicing by the time they were 20 — far more hours than the less accomplished students had spent practicing. Gladwell estimated that the Beatles and Bill Gates had also put in 10,000 hours of practice fiddling with guitars and computers, respectively, by the time they went big.

There’s one problem with this idea: Research suggests it isn’t true. Practice is helpful in improving performance in a variety of fields, from athletics to chess. But it plays a surprisingly small role in determining whether people become virtuosos.”

One of the problems with the way scientific controversies get reported in the media is that the claims swing between extremes. First, we are told that talent doesn’t matter. Later we are told that talent is the only thing that matters.

Ericsson’s work on peak performance has made a real contribution and he has discovered important insights into effective training that may have important implications for education. The 10,000 hour rule is misleading, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.


Deliberate practice in action

20 Jun

I have written a lot about the 10,000 hour rule. As I have said before, I take a middle ground. It is wrong to assert, as Malcolm Galdwell has, that there is no such thing as talent and the difference between experts and novices is simply total amount of practice. On the other hand, I think the research on deliberate practice has yielded interesting insights that might help us all improve performance.

There there’s this:



Hat tip to BoingBoing.

The five hour rule

23 Nov

As I have pointed out before, there is reason to be skeptical of oversimplified versions of the ten thousand hour rule. Talent is a real phenomenon and it does contribute to performance. Having said that, I think we can learn a lot from studying the intense training regimes of high performers. The lessons learned may have  broad applicability for education.

At the other extreme is the five hour rule:



(hat tip to BoingBoing)

More on the 10,000 hour rule

14 Oct

Slate weighs in on the ten thousand hours rule.

When we hear that it takes an average of ten thousand hours to become an expert in most fields, we should ask what is the standard deviation around that average? One way to think about an average is that it is a single number that describes a set of results. The standard deviation tells us how well an average characterizes a set of data. If the standard deviation is zero, then all values equal the average and the average gives us perfect information. As the size of the standard deviation grows the average becomes less informative.

How good is the ten thousand hour average?:

 “However, recent research has demonstrated that deliberate practice, while undeniably important, is only one piece of the expertise puzzle—and not necessarily the biggest piece. In the first study to convincingly make this point, the cognitive psychologists Fernand Gobet and Guillermo Campitelli found that chess players differed greatly in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to reach a given skill level in chess. For example, the number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach “master” status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times more deliberate practice than another player to become a master. “

As we can see from the video below, the ten thousand hour rule is very much alive in the popular mind:


Talent and the ten thousand hour rule

15 Jul

The ten thousand hour rule has established itself in the popular mind. However, the claim that practice is the only factor separating novices from experts is controversial. Today’s New York Times reports on a meta-analysis that asserts the central importance of talent:

“The new paper, the most comprehensive review of relevant research to date, comes to a different conclusion. Compiling results from 88 studies across a wide range of skills, it estimates that practice time explains about 20 percent to 25 percent of the difference in performance in music, sports and games like chess. In academics, the number is much lower — 4 percent — in part because it’s hard to assess the effect of previous knowledge, the authors wrote.

“We found that, yes, practice is important, and of course it’s absolutely necessary to achieve expertise,” said Zach Hambrick, a psychologist at Michigan State University and a co-author of the paper, with Brooke Macnamara, now at Case Western Reserve University, and Frederick Oswald of Rice University. “But it’s not as important as many people have been saying” compared to inborn gifts.”

Here is the abstract:

“More than 20 years ago, researchers proposed that individual differences in performance in such domains as music, sports, and games largely reflect individual differences in amount of deliberate practice, which was defined as engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a domain. This view is a frequent topic of popular-science writing—but is it supported by empirical evidence? To answer this question, we conducted a meta-analysis covering all major domains in which deliberate practice has been investigated. We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.”


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