Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

Ten thousand hour rule: More skepticism

23 Sep

A paper title “You Can’t Teach Speed: Sprinters Falsify the Deliberate Practice Model of Expertise” casts doubt on simplistic models of the ten thousand hour rule. Here is the abstract:

 

“Most scientists agree that expertise requires both innate talent and proper training. Nevertheless, the highly influential deliberate practice model (DPM) of expertise holds that either talent does not exist, or that its contribution to performance differences is negligible. It predicts that initial performance will be unrelated to achieving expertise and that a long period of deliberate practice — at least 10 years or 10,000 hours — is necessary and sufficient for achieving expertise. We tested these predictions in the domain of sprinting. Study 1 reviewed the biographies of 15 Olympic sprint champions. Study 2 reviewed the biographies of the 20 fastest male sprinters in U.S. history. In all documented cases, sprinters were exceptional prior to or coincident with their initiation of formal training. Furthermore, most reached world class status rapidly (Study 1 median = 3 years; Study 2 median = 7.5). Study 3 surveyed U.S. national collegiate championships qualifiers in sprints and throws. Sprinters recalled being faster as youths than did throwers, whereas throwers recalled greater strength and overhand throwing ability. Sprinters’ best performances in their first season of high school, generally the onset of formal training, were consistently faster than 95-99% of their peers. Collectively, these results falsify the DPM for sprinting. Because speed is foundational for many sports, they challenge the DPM generally.”

I think a nuanced view is in order here. The popular idea of the deliberate practice model is, undoubtedly, an oversimplification and genetics do play a role. However, simply focusing on the top level performers does miss an important point – the deliberate practice model identifies many elements of successful training and learning, such as the importance of feedback and spaced practice. These insights are valuable to education and training at all levels.

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The 10,000 hour rule: Some skepticism

28 Aug

The 10,000 hour rule, the claim that extensive practice trumps native ability, has captured the public’s imagination. The rule derives from the work of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson.  Here is a succinct statement of Ericsson’s position:

“In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years” – source

I think Ericsson’s work is important and deliberate does play an important role in the development of talent. However, an important paper by Philip Ackerman in the journal Intelligence argues convincingly that the 10,000 hour rule is an extreme claim not supported by the evidence. In his words:

“Extreme positions on this controversy are fundamentally silly — both nature and nurture are necessary determinants of expert/elite performance, but neither alone represents a sufficient causal factor. “

Here is a typical presentation of the 10,000 hour rule:

ericsson-accumulated-deliberate-practice

(source: http://expertadvantage.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/10000hours1/)

Note, however, that the chart is a representation of mean values. It does not show the variance around the mean. That variance is critical because it would tell us how much of performance is unexplained by the rule.

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