Learning a new skill can often feel daunting, especially if it’s one that doesn’t particularly spark interest or enthusiasm – we’ve all been there right? You can feel bombarded by information and overwhelmed with the task of learning and feel like giving up before you’ve even begun!
So, how can we overcome this? How can we find the opportunity to put our learning into practice and how can practice lead to success?
Knowledge Vs Practice
When we think of learning we think of gaining knowledge:
However, as Anton Chekhov once said: ‘knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice’. This is true, we can study and gain years of knowledge, however if we don’t put the information we’ve acquired into practice then it’s meaningless and often forgotten over time. I’m sure we’ve all attended a workshop or studied a course that we later haven’t put into practice and our learning has been lost. I studied French and Spanish at GCSE and A-level, however without speaking the languages on a daily basis, I wouldn’t say I was particularly fluent in them now – I expect, if we all think back to our school subjects, how many of us can remember and are actually using those skills now? I doubt many of us are.
Gaining knowledge in learning is only half the battle won, the other half comes from practice and of course feedback – as otherwise how do you know if you are doing something right? And most importantly how can you improve if you don’t know where to begin? So how can we improve practice in our students’ learning?
Can deliberate practice aid learning?
Deliberate practice involves attention, interest and motivation, this is the important bit and how we, as educators, can help our students understand the benefit of practice in the long run by making our learning materials fun and interesting!
It’s important because practice can help improve skills. If you practice a new skill on a regular basis then you will get good at it, learning to ride a bike, drive a car, play a musical instrument, these are all skills that take time, commitment and practice and this is exactly the same for studying too. Practice helps you implement what you have learnt and get better at it.
Practice can also boost self-confidence. When you practice something and see results, it makes you feel happy and confident; when you’ve finally learnt to ride your bike, passed your driving test, play a music instrument – you’ve done it! You feel a sense of achievement as all that hard work has paid off!
As instructional design expert Barbara Seels (1997) says:
“Practice is the most important ingredient of effective instruction; it speeds up learning, aids long-term retention, and facilitates recall. Instruction is less effective when there is no opportunity to perform the task or when practice is delayed . . . . Unfortunately, much of the instruction in our classrooms provides little or no opportunity for practice.”
Learning will most likely occur with the opportunity for practice and feedback. Creating an environment or providing opportunity for our students to practice what they’ve learnt is paramount in the learning process. Whether this be on an online platform i.e taking part in a chatroom or taking a quiz. Giving feedback is also crucial. Providing students with feedback or vice versa, students giving their course leaders feedback on their learning experience, helps to confirm their knowledge and also provides ways in which future students’ experiences can be improved.
One way we can help our students put their knowledge into practice is through retrieval practice. Retrieval practice focuses on bringing information to the mind, retrieving knowledge and then putting it into practice, by doing this students can strengthen their learning.
Are there any ways you can use retrieval practice in your learning materials?
The Mastery Approach – how can we achieve this?
There are lots of ways deliberate practice can lead to mastering a skill, which is primarily what the mastery approach to learning is.
The next time you learn a new skill, whether it be learning a musical instrument or a work-related task, think about the following things:
- Establish specific goals – Firstly, what do you want to achieve? How will you know when you’ve achieved it?
- Practice plan – break your tasks down into parts – Break your task down into different areas, then make a specific plan of how long you will spend on a specific part and when you will do it.
- Give your full attention to each part – You won’t become a master by multi-tasking. You need to be focusing on each part, practice slowly until you have mastered each section then put it all together. This is why breaking down our learning material into bite-size sections is so important, rather than text heavy documents!
- Get feedback from a master – No one masters a skill by themselves. An expert outsider can help provide you with feedback and direction. Surely it’s better to have feedback to correct or improve and help aid perfecting the skill.
- Move out of the comfort zone – No one becomes a master by doing what they already knew. Stretch your expertise by stepping away from your current ability.
- Maintain your motivation – You’ll need to have three things for this, emotional, logical and logistical reasons to continue:
- Logistical – finding the most convenient time and place to practice.
- Emotion and logic – what drives you? Maybe you want to succeed due to a negative experience you’ve had or maybe it was something positive, someone’s praise and this drives you to work hard – only you will know this.
Here’s the science bit!
To summarise, knowledge is important in learning. However, unless knowledge is put into practice then it will lack value and in time will be lost. Knowledge, deliberate practice and feedback lead to acquiring and mastering a skill. Practice does make perfect!
Thank you for taking the time to read my post, I hope you’ve found it interesting! I would love to hear your experiences on putting new skills into practice, have they been successful – if so how did they become successful and if not, why?
Barbara Seels (1997): ps://ctl.byu.edu/tip/effective-learning-through-practice-skill-building-and-feedback)