Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is the notion that it is the way in which we practice, not how much, that is the key to success.

“When most musicians sit down to practice, they play the parts of pieces that they’re good at. Of course they do: It’s fun to succeed. But expert musicians tend to focus on the parts that are hard, the parts they haven’t yet mastered.” (Joseph Foer, cited in Popova)

This video summarizes deliberate practice as presented in a recent book by Anders Ericsson, inventor of the deliberate practice technique:

There are different ways to incorporate deliberate practice activities into your course:

“The deliberate practice concept encompasses the educational ideas of constructivism and formative assessment. In our case, the deliberate practice takes the form of a series of challenging questions and tasks that require the students to practice physicist like reasoning and problem solving during class time while provided with frequent feedback” (Deslauriers et al., 2011)

Another way to incorporate deliberate practice is to use an adaptive learning system such as MyMathLab, MasteringPhysics, or ALEKS to give students personalized practice opportunities.  You may also create problems for students to practice using quizzes in Canvas, or there are flashcard tools such as Anki to aid memorization.

There are some caveats to deliberate practice.

the techniques of deliberate practice are most applicable to “highly developed fields” such as chess, sports, and musical performance in which the rules of the domain are well established and passed on from generation to generation. The principles of deliberate practice do not work nearly as well for professions in which there is “little or no direct competition, such as gardening and other hobbies”, and “many of the jobs in today’s workplace– business manager, teacher, electrician, engineer, consultant, and so on.” (Kaufman, 2016)

However, many topics covered at the undergraduate level are well established and more amenable to the deliberate practice technique, such as physics and mathematics.  Deliberate practice alone, however, may be boring and less effective for student learning if it simply involves decontextualized drill problems.  Ericsson has stated that deliberate practice should be situated in an authentic context as much as possible.  See contextual learning more ideas related to this.

special issue of Intelligence also has some critiques of Anders Ericsson’s work on the development of expertise.


More resources:

At Embry-Riddle, faculty using the deliberate practice technique in their classes include:

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