Deliberate Practice

Reading the Weekend Australian I recently stumbled across this fascinating article about ‘deliberate practice’, a concept exploring the acquisition of expert performance.  This Freakonomics blog post summarises:

This means that, your level of natural talent notwithstanding, excellence is accomplished mainly through the tenets of deliberate practice, which are roughly:

1. Focus on technique as opposed to outcome.
2. Set specific goals.
3. Get good, prompt feedback, and use it.

Dr K Anders Ericsson is the authorative figure for this work.  An extract here:

For appropriate challenging problems experts don’t just automatically extract patterns and retrieve their response directly from memory. Instead they select the relevant information and encode it in special representations in working memory that allow planning, evaluation and reasoning about alternative courses of action (Ericsson & Lehmann, 1996). Hence, the difference between experts and less skilled subjects is not merely a matter of the amount and complexity of the accumulated knowledge; it also reflects qualitative differences in the organization of knowledge and its representation (Chi, Glaser & Rees, 1982).  Experts’ knowledge is encoded around key domain-related concepts and solution procedures that allow rapid and reliable retrieval whenever stored information is relevant.  

My thoughts focus on how such practices occur in a pluralistic society and in the area of social development.  If expert performance is acquired through domain-related concepts as distinct to the accumulation of memory and innate talent, and if the ‘rapid and reliable retrieval’ of information is critical to furthering expert performance, how do social and environmental factors play in the acquisition of expert performance?  Alternatively, how do social systems and networks value the different types of experts that are available.  For example, if a person is raised in a family where the knowledge and language is markedly different to that of the dominant culture how does that society as a whole, through its formal and informal relationships, value those knowledge and language factors?  If a person acquires an expert level within the less dominant culture and within that domain what is the relationship between its value, relevance, recognition and social capital?

Further, Dr Ericssons theories appear to extend to physical sports.  While he notes physical factors are relevant to particular sports (e.g. basketball and height), his theory holds that if you have two people who are identical in physical appearance then the person who adopts the methods of acquiring expert performance will excel.  In some respects athletes at their best compete at a highly competitive level and some are able to retain that top level through a perfected form of expert acquisition.  I wonder if, across social groupings, whether environmental and social factors in relation to a less dominant culture have a relationship to the over-reprentation of that groupings participation at expert level in sports?


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