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