Learning needs deliberate practice

We learn and develop skills through deliberate practice, not through mindless repetition (or no repetition).

That means:

  • Having a clear goal or intention for each practice session or activity. For example, the intention of practising one action until you can complete it successfully three times in a row.
  • Applying focused attention to the task.
  • Receiving and acting on feedback each time.

To continue improving, we must practise with intent. As we repeatedly practise something, our natural tendency is to feel more comfortable and fluent as automaticity increases. That can be deceptive, making us feel like we must be improving (because we’re putting in the reps) whereas in fact, we’re just repeating suboptimal habits automatically. We need to constantly analyse what we’re doing, based on feedback, identify ways to improve and then focus on those.

Deliberate practice shouldn’t feel easy or comfortable – we’re stretching ourselves. Effective learning benefits from desirable difficulties.