Deliberate Practice

  • research started by Anders Ericsson
  • a way to practice with a goal in mind, examples:
    • Play this piece all the way through, at this speed, with no mistakes, three times in a row
    • Program an email signup form without checking Stack Overflow
  • feedback is necessary, there's a difference with just lifting weights vs recording yourself while lifting and then critiquing
    • seems like the best do this (Zack Telander, Bryce Krawczyk, Brian Alsruhe, ...)
    • what I think happened might be different to what others think
  • I should focus on things that don't go well, and practice those; this is related to weight training and specific exercises to address "weak points":

    the importance of grit - of students' focusing on material with which they struggle

  • how big of an importance is talent here?
    • if small, then almost everything can be trained
    • if big, then deliberate practice is only relevant to those who are already talented
  • is it possible that it is also a function of what is being studied? (learning violin vs piano for example)
  • related a bit - unused skills "fade out" (being "out of practice")
    • this means that skills need to be performed regularly
    • meta: important "mental model", how the observation of skill fading out over time leads to conclusions of the need of performing it
  • connected to Deliberate Practice and Stress

To summarize these results:

  • The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
  • but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
  • and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.
  • Hard work is deliberate practice. It's not fun while you’re doing it, but you don't have to do too much of it in any one day (the elite players spent, on average, 3.5 hours per day engaged in deliberate practice, broken into two sessions). It also provides you measurable progress in a skill, which generates a strong sense of contentment and motivation. Therefore, although hard work is hard, it's not draining and it can fit nicely into a relaxed and enjoyable day.
  • Hard to do work, by contrast, is draining. It has you running around all day in a state of false busyness that leaves you, like the average players from the Berlin study, feeling tired and stressed. It also, as we just learned, has very little to do with real accomplishment.

In deliberate practice, learners and teachers periodically stop and assess their experiences and circumstances in order to make a plan to improve. The first two components - stopping and assessing - constitute reflective practice. Reflective practice, in turn, falls into three equally important domains. The first domain is cognitive awareness: awareness of what you know and don't know. The second domain is procedural: what kind of technical skills do you have or do you need and what can you or can't you do. The final domain is affective: how do interactions with patients or colleagues, or your work life in general, influence emotions, and what impact does that have on patient care and your own quality of life as a physician.

  • can this act be deliberately practiced?
    • I could record myself building experiments, open question: would that provide enough signal over noise, so feedback is possible?
    • I could create more constraints for better understanding: not using external libraries, using a different language than the one I'm used to, etc.
Szymon Kaliski © 2021