Practice loops

Practice loops are useful as a concept to think about learning any skill. A practice loop is an activity or group of activities you repeat over and over again while learning something.

  • In physics: a practice loop is every problem you solve.
  • In business: it is each product or feature you launch.
  • In languages: conversations, flaschards, grammar exercises are all loops.

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Designing the Perfect Practice Loop

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Designing Your Practice Loop

Step one involves figuring out what your loops are. These are the activities you repeat over and over when learning something.

Next, analyze the loop for different parts to see whether you can make improvements. It will result in faster learning.

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  • Does your loop match the skill or subskill I'm trying to improve? A vocabulary drill that is aimed to improve your words in a real conversation, but only lets you recognize words by their spelling misses the point. You may recognize the words in print, but may not be able to speak them aloud.

  • Can you get better, more accurate feedback after each iteration? In public speaking, you could videotape yourself performing the skill to look for mistakes later. 

  • Do you understand the process? Repeating an inefficient technique won't make you a master. Sometimes a different method will create better results.

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The best way to learn is not to just sit and read.

  • Write down what your current practice loop is for something you're learning now.
  • Give one idea for how you might improve the loop.

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Many loops aren’t straightforward repetitions. You may never write the same essay twice. The loop isn't writing a particular essay, but the overall process for writing essays.

In the same way, each thing you learn may have more than one loop. Drills are smaller loops to focus on smaller parts of the bigger loop.

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We can often learn something quickly, but without attaining a master level (like getting good at estimating answers to math problems. While you might get within close proximity, you'll seldom get to the exact answer.)
Learning to do something with precision will require a different technique and can take much longer to master.

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Decide whether what you're trying to improve is mostly a habit or mostly a skill: if your main problem is with doing something you already know how to do, but doing it consistently, that’s probably a habit. If your main problem is not knowing how to do something well enough, that’s probably a skill.

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