Learning to Learn

Deliberate practice for deliberate learning

“. . .we can say that Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.”

— This quote from the science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert underlines the difficulties anyone involved with training or developing people face.

Very few people enjoy the idea of learning and for most of the people learning stops as soon as they leave college. For those who know how to learn, learning becomes a fulfillment to curiosity, a way to overcome fear and a process that helps them face the many decisions and dilemmas of life.

I watched a thought provoking video from Dan North about why we should be focused on deliberate learning over deliberate practice. Here is the video (22 mins long). Please watch it:

In this talk Dan argues the case for deliberate learning with some techniques for improving your programming.

Deliberate learning is about developing discovery and problem-solving skills in unfamiliar contexts.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about moving away from deliberate practice to deliberate  learning, I see deliberate practice as the building blocks that help enable quality deliberate learning. I think the following quote from the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin properly defines the term  deliberate practice:

deliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them.

Few years before Colvin wrote one article called What It Takes to Be Great, where he offered new evidence that top performers in any field — from Tiger Woods and Winston Churchill to Warren Buffett and Jack Welch–are not determined by their inborn talents. Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades. In this book he has expanded his article with much more scientific background and real-world examples.

It’s all about the age old saying “practice makes a man perfect”. The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness.

The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but about the process of reaching the outcome.
― Geoff Colvin, from Talent is Overrated


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