Purposeful Practice

Learning is an Accomplishment

There’s no argument that well executed practice within the sports arena is a key competitive advantage.  Just ask professional athletes and they’ll tell you that going over and over the skills, both before and after each game, make the difference between winning and losing.  Top athletes go even further to achieve their performance goals by using visualization techniques to mentally rehearse muscle movements in their heads.

It’s a given that you also need to practice when learning physical (kinesthetic) skills such as tennis and golf.  Not just any old practice will do.  What works is practice of the core, fundamental skills (back to basics stuff) that when reinforced over time leads to high quality, sustained performance.

If you’re a contestant on a television show such as ‘Dancing With the Stars’, your top ballroom dance professional will teach you the physical, mental and social tools necessary for success, and will stop at nothing to transform you from ordinary to extraordinary. After a lot of practice and more practice you’re ready to confidently glide across the dance floor. Again, you discover that you can only learn a physical skill with practice. 

Once is not Enough

Now think of the last time you attended a workshop, seminar, or completed an online course to learn new job knowledge and skills?  How many times did you actually practice?  Was once enough?  For some learning events there’s only time for content presentations and explanations with little or no opportunity to really discuss, work with, try out, use, and apply the learning. 

Did you know that it takes twenty-one times of repetition to learn something…seven times to a performance level and the other times to reinforce it so it happens automatically.  It’s dangerous to think of learning as awareness only (a topic ‘coverage’ orientation) and not performance.  What you think you know vanishes very quickly without practice.   It’s called learning decay.

Testing is not Practice

So, you’d assume that with technology-based training you’d have more opportunities to practice.  The opposite is true.  Too many e-learning programs provide very little practice.  The focus is more on testing as quickly as possible (within 15 to 30 minutes) to prove you have learned. 

What’s being tested is not whether or not you have learned but how effectively you have retained the information in your short-term memory.  It’s ‘’teach, test and hope for the best’ outcome.  It’s similar to cramming for a test only to forget most of what you ‘learned’ the next day, week, or month.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Do you or your organization need to place more emphasis on practice? From an organizational perspective it’s often the case of no time and no money to invest in practice.  It’s often left up to you, the learner, to take what you’ve learned and apply it back on-the-job. Often there’s no time to do that either because of other priorities and pressures that push practice to the back burner.

So, the next time you attend or go online to complete an organization-sponsored learning initiative, try using the same practice skills you rely on when learning a new sport or hobby. Take time to intentionally learn based on proven practice strategies.

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