For most people, no matter what new skill they want to acquire, learning consists of hard work that is repeated daily for many hours until the skill is mastered. The same principle is applied to learning to play the piano, for example, or learning a new language. Hard and constant work plays an important part in mastering any skill, yet, as one study finds, our success in learning can be much faster if we vary our practice slightly.
The varying practice approach
Together with his fellow researchers, Pablo A. Celnik, M.D., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, conducted research among 68 people on the effects of modified practice when learning computer-based motor skills. The conclusions they came to speak in favor of the varying practice approach, since the performance level of the group using this approach almost doubled the performance level of the group that used the regular learning approach. Celnik explains how a process called reconsolidation, in which new information and knowledge help recall existing memories, can now help motor skill development. He emphasizes the importance of the findings for helping patients with neurological conditions to recover lost motor function. “The goal is to develop novel behavioral interventions and training schedules that give people more improvement for the same amount of practice time.”
How it works
In the fast paced modern world we live in, it seems like time is our most valuable resource, and most of us seem to lack it. With the developments in technology happening rapidly, most of us are forced into learning new skills constantly and quickly. The varying practice approach is so effective, simply because it actually saves our precious time and helps us cope with demanding tasks in a more productive way. Based on the reconsolidation process, the approach provides faster learning that requires:
- Practicing the activity
- Taking a 6 hour break (which is the time needed for the reconsolidation of memories)
- Repeating the activity with minor modifications
It is very important not to alter the practice entirely, as it won’t have any effect on the performance. As Celnik suggests: “If you make the altered task too different, people do not get the gain we observed during reconsolidation. The modification between sessions needs to be subtle.” Based on our ability to reconsolidate memories, the approach works in a way that helps our learned skills be remembered much quicker, and upgraded. When we slightly alter the practicing activity, it triggers our existing memories and helps imprint the new ones faster than during a regular approach consisting of repetition of the same activity.
Additionally, changing things up as we learn a new skill can enhance our creativity. As earlier studies have shown, our creativity levels become stale if we keep repeating the same process over and over. Instead, we can see the benefits to our creativity, even from making the slightest alteration, such as changing our every day route to work.
How to implement the varying practice approach
As most of us struggle with time management when it comes to learning new skills, applying the varying practice approach will most certainly prove beneficial to many people. The implementation principle is quite simple, actually. Similar to the regular practice approach, it requires hard work and dedication, yet the rewards of the learned skill won’t take that long to be achieved.
If we take learning how to play tennis as an example, our practice should follow the mentioned pattern with two practicing sessions, with a 6-hour break in between. Minor alteration in this case would be, as Celnik suggests, changing the size or weight of a tennis racket in between practice sessions. With subtle variations, our practicing sessions become twice as effective.
Featured photo credit: Eric Bailey via pexels.com
|||^||Science Daily: Want to learn a new skill? Faster? Change up your practice sessions.|
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