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In order to learn a new skill, a a person must repeat that skill for many repetitions. However, not all repetitions are the same. If a person mindlessly slogs through repetition after repetition, they will not develop the skill with the same efficiency as a person who performs repetitions mindfully and with focus.

In his book, The Talent Code (2009), Daniel Coyle coins the phrase “deep practice” to describe this more effective type of practice. For deep practice to occur, a student must be practicing near the upper level of their skill capacity. This is when mistakes are likely to occur. Deep practice is the process of practicing until error occurs, and then fixing the error with immediate feedback and correction.

This particular method of practice works because it increases and strengthens the myelin that attaches neurons together in the person’s brain, ultimately developing a strong neural pathway for the skill being practiced. Coyle writes that there are three rules of deep practice:

Chunk it up. Cognitive psychologists measure information in “chunks”. Initially, the learner should look at the overall skill as one fluid skill. Next, the learner should break the skill into easily managed chunks, and develop skill in each of those chunks before integrating them back into the whole skill. Then the learner should experiment with various speeds of the skill, beginning with slower movement and increasing as the skill develops.

Repeat it. Again, repetition is key to skill acquisition. However, it is important to focus more on the quality of each repetition, rather than the total quantity of repetitions. Errors should be fixed with immediate and respectful corrective feedback.

Learn to feel it. As the learner develops competency in the skill, they will learn to feel when the skill has been done correctly. The learner should develop self efficacy with the use of the skill and strive for the right feel of the movement.

John Windsor – Mandt Faculty & Technical Skills Specialist

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