How many times have we heard the phrase “Practice makes perfect?” But, as busy adults, do we really put it into practice like we should? (Yes, pun intended.) Or, do we instead learn something and get frustrated when we don’t immediately pick it up? Or, do we simply forget what we’ve learned, because we don’t reinforce our learning by putting it into practice? As someone whose job is all about helping others learn, this is the kind of thing I ponder. Call me a learning nerd, but in this digital age of constant change, learning – and practice – are becoming even more important to all of us.
I’d like to share what sent me down this path today. During my morning reading, the simplified version of my favorite quote about learning landed in front of me, but was wrongly attributed to Ben Franklin. This sent me on a search to make sure I wasn’t the one who was wrong, because I thought it came from a Chinese philosopher. Imagine my learning nerd’s delight when I landed on the full original quote, which, was even more meaningful than the shortened version that has been posted above my workspace for many years.
Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.
Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice. – Xun Kuang, Confucian Philosopher, 312-230 BC
(Per this Quora post, this is from the John Knoblock translation, which is viewable in Google Books.)
The importance of putting things into practice was distilled in this quote by Kuang sometime prior to his death in 230 BC. Wow! That’s over 2200 years ago, and yet we still forget to build this important step into our training designs and our individual attempts at learning something new. I’ve often said that the knowledge and skills you gain are only as good as your ability to apply them. It’s a very important, but often overlooked, distinction.
You have probably read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or heard of his 10,000 hours of practice theory. Most things do not require you to practice for 10,000 hours to build basic competence and then move to mastery, but they do require at least some focused practice. Your practice will be even more effective at solidifying your learning, if it’s spaced out over a period of time. Since the 1920s, research has proven this to be true time and again, but don’t take my word for it. Check out the table near the bottom of this article or Google “retrieval practice” and “spacing effect.”
My challenge to you is to take a little time to do some focused practice the next time you learn something new, and be okay with not being perfect the first few times. After all, you’re learning. Failure is part of the process. I’d love to hear whether it makes a difference for you, or maybe it already has? Let me know.