Lessons from the world of sports: #6 The rule of practice

What lessons can we in the field of educational ICT learn from sports? In this, the sixth part of this mini-series, we look at the issue of practice.

Practice makes perfect, according to the proverb. One of the things which struck me during the 2012 Olympics was just how much these athletes practise. Hour after gruelling hour, every day, week in, week out. And these are already experts in their chosen profession, already right at the top of their game.

Practice makes perfect! Photo by Phillippe Teuwen http://www.flickr.com/people/doegox/You don’t have to confine yourself to sport to see this. I once read that Jacques Louissier, the jazz pianist, practises for 8 hours a day. In fact, I’ve been informed that in order to achieve Grade 8 piano you have to practice over 100 scales together with other exercises for at least two hours a day.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, discovered what he called “the 10,000 hour rule”, which is that you have to practise something for 10,000 hours before becoming a real expert. I worked out that this equates to around 6 or 7 years assuming that you “practise” as your normal everyday work. That is, working a seven or eight hour day five days a week.

In a different but not dissimilar vein, film producer Sam Goldwyn observed that:

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

So, given that all the evidence points to the fact that to become an expert, and then to remain one, you need to practise, practise, practise, why do some schools think it makes sense for students to have ICT lessons for an hour a week, but with no expectation of their using it elsewhere in the curriculum the rest of the time? That’s not quite as bad as teaching ICT across the curriculum with no obvious expert guidance whatsoever, but it’s hardly ideal.

I don’t believe you can counter this by coming out with that old chestnut, that all kids today are born digital natives. Even if that were true, which it isn’t, they would still need plenty of expert guidance (‘coaching’) and opportunities to practise their ICT skills in order to maintain and develop their expertise.

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