So if there is one way to best learn something, what would it be? To start to answer the question, I present to you an old parable I read some time ago that goes something like this:
A pottery teacher split her class into two halves.
To the first half she said, “You will spend the semester studying pottery, planning, designing, and creating your perfect pot. At the end of the semester, there will be a competition to see who’s pot is the best”.
To the other half she said, “You will spend your semester making lots of pots. Your grade will be based on the number of completed pots you finish. At the end of the semester, you’ll also have the opportunity to enter your best pot into a competition.”
The first half of the class threw themselves into their research, planning, and design. Then they set about creating their one, perfect pot for the competition.
The second half of the class immediately grabbed fistfulls of clay and started churning out pots. They made big ones, small ones, simple ones, and intricate ones. Their muscles ached for weeks as they gained the strength needed to throw so many pots.
At the end of class, both halves were invited to enter their most perfect pot into the competition. Once the votes were counted, all of the best pots came from the students that were tasked with quantity. The practice they gained made them significantly better potters than the planners on a quest for a single, perfect pot.
So what’s moral of the story? The best way to learn something is to do it, a lot. Like everyday. But practicing something repeatedly is a start, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Of course there is no denying that practice and repetition is important to acquiring a skill. But simple practice isn’t enough, it must be deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is practicing mindfully, being thoughtful about how you are practicing. Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University stated that expertise has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing an action or skill a large number of times. Deliberate practice means breaking down the skills that are required to be an expert and focus on improving those skill chunks during practice. Additionally deliberate practice lies in continually improving one’s skills by increasing the difficulty of one’s practice. Here is a mind map that explains more about deliberate practice is:
As you can see, there are essentially 6 facets of deliberate practice:
- Designed to improve your skill
- A coach is available to help advance your skill
- A skill is repeated a lot so that it becomes second nature or habitual
- Feedback by the coach is available on a continual basis
- It is mentally demanding and the demand perpetually increases
- It is not fun and games—you have to be completely focused on honing the skill
So the answer to “what is the best way to learn something” is practice, deliberately practice.
For further reading on deliberate practice, I suggest reading:
Netflix enthusiast, horrible speller, jiujitsu hobbyist, weekend drinker, and occasional poker player. Favorite quote is “[o]ut of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”