Aug 072011

Practice (Learning Method)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Practice is the act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it, as in the phrase “practice makes perfect”. Sports teams practice to prepare for actual games. Playing a musical instrument well takes a lot of practice. It is a method of learning and of acquiring experience. The word derives from the Greek “πρακτική” (praktike), feminine of “πρακτικός” (praktikos), “fit for or concerned with action, practical”[1] and that from the verb “πράσσω” (prasso),”to achieve, bring about, effect, accomplish”.[2] In American English practice is used as both a noun and a verb, but in British English there is a distinction between practice, used as a noun, and practise, used as a verb (see spelling differences).

Sessions scheduled for the purpose of rehearsing and performance improvement are called practices. They are engaged in by sports teams, bands, individuals, etc. “He went to football practice everyday after school,” for example.

Common types of practice

Some common ways practice is applied:

How well one improves with practice depends on several factors, such as the frequency it is engaged in, and the type of feedback that is available for improvement. If feedback is not appropriate (either from an instructor or from self-reference to an information source), then the practice tends to be ineffective or even detrimental to learning. If a student does not practise often enough, reinforcement fades, and he or she is likely to forget what was learned. Therefore, practice is often scheduled, to ensure enough of it is performed to reach one’s training objectives. How much practice is required depends upon the nature of the activity, and upon each individual. Some people improve on a particular activity faster than others. Practice in an instructional setting may be effective if repeated only 1 time (for some simple verbal information) or 3 times (for concepts), or it may be practised many times before evaluation (a dance movement).

Given that practice is merely the reinforcement of actions that serve to generate an outcome or outcomes, it is believed that by improving the type of practice you do, you can in turn generate results at a faster rate.

Author Roberto Moretti[3] has identified five key processes that make for efficient practice, namely:

  • Identification — building an awareness of what you are practicing to ensure you know how to do it perfectly.
  • Isolation — the selection and focusing on something that is the proper size for one’s focus to process and execute with a high degree of perfection.
  • Reinforcement — the action of consistently and continuously repeating the above-selected action so it becomes autonomous.
  • Integration — the practicing of interrelated actions either one after each other or together to construct and train in more complex actions or sequences of actions.
  • Escalation — consistently selecting new practice material congruent with one’s goals in skill acquisition as previous material is mastered.

Deliberate practice

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, has been a pioneer in researching deliberate practice and what it means. According to Ericsson:

“People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults.” “We agree that expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”[4]

One of Ericsson’s core findings is that how expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback.

Deliberate practice is also discussed in the books, “Talent is Overrated,” by Geoff Colvin[5], and “The Talent Code,” by Daniel Coyle,[6]among others.

Practice as maintenance

Skills fade with non-use. The phenomenon is often referred to as being “out of practice”. Practice is therefore performed (on a regular basis) to keep skills and abilities honed.


  1. ^ πρακτικός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  2. ^ πράσσω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  3. ^
  4. ^ K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406[1]
  5. ^ Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
  6. ^ Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How

 See also


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