16 July 2009

Deliberate Practice, Part 2

We tried to dissect the elements of "deliberate practice" [Ericsson, et al., 2006] during today's CWSEI Reading Group meeting. Not all aspects of "practice" are the same. We recognize that some students insist on multitasking while doing homework (e.g., watch TV or listen to iPod while engaging in practice activities). Perhaps the term "deliberate practice" should be reserved for those tasks that do not readily permit TV or other multitasking interferences. Ray Lister suggested another paper related to practice quality [Plant, et al., 2005] that may be of interest.

Some of the elements of practice include foundations that students often do not enjoy, but are recognized as skill development techniques. In music, this includes practice on scales, repertoire, technical exercises, etc. [Sloboda, et al., 1996]. In computer science, this may involve practice with "boring" parts of CS, like math skills, analyzing sort routines, fixing badly designed or poorly documented code, or coding non-interactive applications.

The studies of Sloboda, et al., showed that no matter what skill level, there is a common trend that performers that are better at that skill/age level have spent more hours in deliberate practice. The highest achievers in each level are those individuals that have practiced the most. Performers in the highest level have accumulated a considerably larger number of hours than in the next highest level, and so on. This reinforces the results of other papers (e.g., [Ericsson, 1996; Colvin, 2008]).

There is some debate about whether a long programming assignment is better than a shorter programming assignment. Historically, to convey a CS learnaing objective, programming assignments tend to be longer than necessary (perhaps because "I had to do it that way when I was an undergrad"). But, if a student cannot get the long program to work at all, does this mean the student has failed? What if the student is really close to getting it working, but just can't get it to work, or simply doesn't understand a small component of it? Might it be better to have many shorter programs/exercises and more manageable or self-contained milestones, thus building confidence for the student?


Colvin, Geoff. Talent is Overrated. Portfolio (Penguin), 2008.

Ericsson, K. A. The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, P. Feltovich, and R. R. Hoffman, R. R. (Eds.). Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 685-706). Cambridge, UK: CambridgeUniversityPress, 2006.

Plant, E. Ashby; Ericsson, K. Anders; Hill, Len; Asberg, Kia (2005). "Why Study Time Does Not Predict Grade Point Average across College Students: Implications of Deliberate Practice for Academic Performance". Contemporary Educational Psychology, v30 n1 p96-116 Jan 2005.

Sloboda, John A.; Davidson, Jane W.; Howe, Michael J.A.; Moore, Derek G. "The role of practice in the development of performing musicians". British Journal of Psychology (1996), 87, pp. 287-309.

12 July 2009

Deliberate Practice

According to extensive studies on how experts develop their specialized knowledge, one of the primary factors is deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe, Tesch-Romer, 1993). This means that it is through prolonged efforts to improve performance skills or understanding, whether in chess, sports, music, science, etc., that result in expert performance. Such effortful activities (deliberate practice) need to be carefully designed and administered to optimize improvement with the help of coaches, mentors, teachers, often parents, etc. Many expert characteristics that were once believed to reflect innate talents are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.

For computer science,
most of the current computing education I have been exposed to do not include significant amount of "practice". There may be some reading assignments, a few programming assignments, but the amount of actual practice is not significant. If expert knowledge does require significant amount of time and effort, we should explore 1) how to deconstruct learning of computer science concepts into sequences of practice activities, and 2) how these activities can be incorporated in the lectures / labs and perhaps even other available technologies, such as online and mobile learning, to promote deliberate practice beyond class time.


Ericsson, K.A., Krampe, R.T., Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review. 100(3), 363 - 406.