Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Learning Till the End of Time

It just dawned on me.....

"You would like to have lessons with me till the end of time", said The Pedagogue at my last piano lesson....and so I started cogitating upon why I like taking lessons so much - especially one on one..but any lessons really - from a good teacher...not one of those frustrating ones that tell you everything you do is wonderful - I'm sure we've all been in workshops like first it feels good, then you think "I'm not getting anything out of this!"

I think the main reason I love lessons is  because I really enjoy learning new things, or - even more -  learning how to do/make those things I already do, better and stronger. I love learning more about art, and music, and more about learning itself.  I'm particularly interested in finding out the best ways to learn. Robert Bjork is very interesting on this - lots of You Tube.
And, yes, there's the 10,000 hours idea...but this number has been challenged on many levels.
If you haven't heard of it, a popular science writer summarized a number of findings on learning - (particularly with respect to music) and concluded that 10,000 hours of practice would make you an  expert.

However, many researchers dispute this e.g. * Macnamara et al (2014) examined all the relevant research and concluded:

" deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued."

The original research was carried out by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer in 1993 on violin students in Berlin. They noted that the best students had practiced around 10,000 hours by the time they were 20.  However to conclude from that research (as has been done)  that 10,000 hours is both a necessary and  a sufficient amount of time to become an expert is invalid. 

In 2017, Ericsson and Pool wrote a book about the limitations to the 10,000 hours idea **. (by the way there are a lot of negative reviews of this book too!).  One of the big problems with the 10g hours theory is that the variation of the number of hours the students had practiced was great, some of the better ones had done less than 10g, some more...10 g was only the average. And, there are other studies suggest that it takes 10 years  rather than 10k achieve a good level of mastery of whatever craft/acitivity you wish to learn.

And what does "practice" actually mean?  Making or doing the same old same old just doesn't cut it.  Everyone does agree that you need to push yourself further, take risks, make the tasks progressively harder, get lots of feedback about mistakes or weaknesses and then devise specific strategies to work on those.  As the athletes do.
People who are very honest with themselves about their work, and who gain good feedback - even if difficult to hear - (and believe me I've been through that!) -  do improve faster than those that keep repeating the same stuff.  Often it's when you hit that brick wall and struggle and struggle and really think about what you have to do to overcome it that you make the most progress.

The research on so-called brain games also suggests that it's not just using our brains that makes the differences, it's taking on ever more difficult tasks.  So, if you want to get anywhere, it's probably not going to be easy.   But are in good company!  If you learn a new brain game and then just settle into playing it over and over,  the brain begins to make things automatic. That doesn't lead to more cognitive strength.  which is why most "brain games" are completely pointless once you've got the hang of them!  That's not so say that they might not be fun!  but just don't kid yourself you're preventing Alzheimers.
On the positive side, it is very evident that the more you learn, the more you challenge your brain, the better it will work, the more creative it will be.  So really the answer is, stop reading the self help books and start challenging yourself!! Every new challenge is a step forward.
Learning is good for the brain!  It's good for you...but furthermore, it's one of the most exciting human activities there's the something special that we as human being can do - to push the limits of our knowledge, of our skills and our creativity...and to keep on doing it to the very end!

 Oh, I don't think my piano teacher is going to get rid of me very soon,  for learning feels so good.

If you have been, thanks for reading! 
  I hope your New year is both healthy and FULL of learning!   Elizabeth

Ps. There's still time to enroll in the 2018 masterclass - either in the basic program of assignments, or as an independent student.  Just contact me: elizabethmasterclass  AT

Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports,

 Education, and Professions

A Meta-Analysis

First Published July 1, 2014 Research Article

** Ericsson and Pool:  Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise


Melanie McNeil said...

Interesting ideas. Last night I watched a TED talk. A surgeon was extolling the benefits of coaching, even for experts and professionals. He used himself as an example. He said in his first few years he knew he kept getting better at surgery, but after that he didn't feel that he, personally, was improving. More experience was not a key component of improvement. So he asked another surgeon to observe him. He didn't expect a lot of feedback, but there was! Everything from how he held his arms to where he stood relative to the light. The surgeon also spoke extensively about birthing centers in India and how even though the midwives and nurses are trained to do things "right," they were not reviewed and coached on improvements to make mothers and babies safer and healthier. Coaching made a big difference in outcomes.

I would love to have coaching on my quilts. I don't know someone personally I can tap for that. :(

Elizabeth Barton said...

consider joining a master class!!! Happy to send you details, Melanie.
very interesting about the TED talk...I must look for that one.
we do develop "short cuts" as we practice a skill and some of them may not be advantageous.

Melanie McNeil said...

Here is a link to the TED talk.

I've been making medallion quilts -- central motif surrounded by multiple borders. I love the format, but I feel like now that I know so much about them, they technically are very good (generally) but I've lost some of the quirks that make them more interesting. I do not feel joy when I look at most of them (though there are some reasons for that which aren't aesthetic.) Would your master class help me address that, or is it really focused on art quilts?

Here is a link to my past year's quilts

Here is my email address. Please feel free to contact me with info on the class or any comments you would make on my recent quilts.

Happy new year, Elizabeth. Thanks for another year of thought-provoking posts.

The Idaho Beauty said...

I no sooner read this than I ran across this quotation:

“We love the objects we think with; we think with the objects we love. So teach people with the objects they are in love with. And if you are a teacher, measure your success by whether your students are falling in love with their objects. Because if they are, the way they think about themselves will also be changing.”

- Sherry Turkle