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You get good at things by doing them. Yet within this simple observation is a maze of complexity. How should you practice to get the most improvement with the least time and effort?
Good practice has three components:
People don’t solve problems by building general-purpose problem-solving skills. Instead, decades of research shows that experts in domains as diverse as chess, programming, and medical reasoning get good by acquiring tons of specific patterns of knowledge.
Of course, if watching alone led to skill, we wouldn’t need to practice at all. We could watch cooking shows and instantly become chefs or see a football (soccer) match and pick up dribbling skills. Acquiring patterns isn’t enough—the knowledge needs to become an automatic skill in order to be useful.
Therefore, the best approach to learning is to see a few examples of the pattern to be learned. If the pattern is complicated and you can’t remember it all at once, doing it once or twice with examples on hand is helpful.
Finally, you need to get feedback on your practice. If the problem is something with a straightforward, unique answer, seeing the correct solution is enough. For skills with gradations of performance or more subjective measures of success, a teacher, tutor or coach can give you the feedback you need.
Feedback is vital for a few reasons. First, it can correct for errors. Making mistakes when learning can actually be beneficial—if there is quick feedback.
Second, feedback can train your unconscious learning system. The procedural learning system of the brain operates through rewards.
A loop like this can be applied to many different skills and subjects:
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