This is a re-post based of a article I wrote for CSTD Learning Journal back in 2013. It’s posted here in three parts. Part 1 introduced the signature skills demonstrated by experts that separate them from novices.
The signatures skills of expertise I described in Part 1 are the result of years of effortful, progressive practice on authentic tasks accompanied by relevant feedback, self-reflection and correction. The research team labeled this “Deliberate Practice” (others have called it deep practice or intentional practice). It involves specific and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or at all. Six elements are necessary for practice (or on the job experience) to be “deliberate” practice:
- It must be designed to improve performance. Practice must have a goal and evaluation criteria. The goals must be job/role based and authentic. Day to day experience is not sufficient, which is where deliberate practice varies from more laissez-faire approaches to informal learning. Years of everyday experience does not necessarily create an expert. Years of deliberate practice does. See my post Everyday Experience is not Enough for a deeper discussion on this.
- It must be based on authentic tasks. The practice must use real work and be performed in context-on the job. The goal is to compile an experience bank, not a list of completed training programs.
- The practice must be challenging. The tasks selected for practice must be slightly outside of the learners comfort zone, but not so far as produce anxiety. Deliberate practice is hard work and stretches a person beyond their current abilities. The experience must involve targeted effort, focus and concentration
- Immediate feedback on results. Accurate and diagnostic feedback must be continuously available both from people (coaches) and the business results produced by the activity. Delayed feedback is also important for actions and decisions with longer term impact as is often the case in knowledge based work.
- Reflection and adjustment. Self-regulatory and metacognitive skills are essential. This includes self-observation, monitoring, and awareness of knowledge and skill gaps. Feedback requires reflection and analysis to inform behaviour change. Experts make mindful choices of their practice activities.
- 10,000 hours (maybe). For complex work, 10,000 hours seems to be the necessary investment of in deliberate practice to achieve expertise. Malcolm Gladwell drew attention to the 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers. Of course the less complex the work, the less time required to develop expertise. This poses a real challenge for our event based training culture.
If we aspire to evidence-based approaches to learning it’s hard to ignore this body of research. Among other things, it challenges us to consider how we can better support the novice to expert journey, embed learning and practice in the job, design experience to include deliberate practice, build tacit knowledge, and build rich feedback into our organizations.
Fortunately we have a number of approaches available to us that align well to the conditions of deliberate practice. I’ll outline those approaches in Part 3.
The image at the top of the page of the key process and concepts of deliberate practice courtesy of Michael Sahota.