According to Dr. David A Sousa, “the old adage that ‘practice makes perfect’ is rarely true. It is very possible to practice the same skill repeatedly with no increase in achievement or accuracy of application.”
Dr. Sousa notes in his book How the Brain Learns that “practice refers to learners repeating a skill over time… The quality of the practice and the learner’s knowledge base will largely determine the outcome of each practice session.”
In her book, Mastery Teaching, Dr. Madeline Hunter identifies four conditions that must be met for practice to improve performance:
- The learner must be sufficiently motivated to want to improve performance.
- The learner must have all the knowledge necessary to understand the different ways that the new knowledge or skill can be applied.
- The learner must understand how to apply the knowledge to deal with a particular situation.
- The learner must be able to analyze the results of that application and know what needs to be changed to improve performance in the future.
For these reasons, Dr. Hunter suggests that trainers should answer four questions in order to design effective practice:
Question #1: “How much material should be practiced at one time?”
Answer: A short meaningful amount.
Question #2: “How long in time should a practice period be?”
Answer: A short time so the learner exerts intense effort and has an intent to learn.
Question #3: “How often should learners practice?”
Answer: New learning should get a lot of intensive practice at one time. Older learning should be refreshed occasionally in practice sessions that occur over a period of time, gradually increasing the time between each session.
For example, when you teach a new skill, the learners should get a chance to practice performing it until they develop a sense of personal competence. This might be done by first watching the trainer perform the skill, working with others in a group, and then performing the skill independently.
In order to keep the new learning fresh in their minds, you can review it or schedule a practice every day for the first few days, and then every other day, or every third day, for a few weeks.
Question #4: “How will learners know how well they have done?”
Answer: Give specific knowledge of results.
In summary, it is the quality of the practice, rather than its quantity, that will make a beneficial difference in a learner’s performance.