Tag Archives: Training

Morse code and the discovery of distributed practice

13 Jun

The more time you spend learning something the more you will remember. This observation, called the total time hypothesis, is not surprising. What surprised many researches was that memory also depended on how that practice is distributed.

During World War II, the military employed psychologist and educational innovator Fred Keller to improve the effectiveness of Morse code training. The demands of the war dramatically increased the need for Morse code operators; discovering an effective training regimen affected how quickly an operator could be put in the field. Thus, code training was not an academic exercise but something that had military consequences.

Keller compared two groups of trainees, one that trained for seven hours a day for five weeks and another that trained for four hours a day for eight weeks. Even though the hours of study were almost the same the group who practiced only four hours a day distributed over a longer period of time achieved a greater level of proficiency with the code.

Here is a short video on the history of the Morse code:


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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