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  • Noa Kageyama

    December 30, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Hi Kale,

    Lots of good questions. And the research seems to suggest pretty clearly that deliberate, spaced, random, and variable practice as described in “Make It Stick” all apply to motor skills as well.

    The challenge is figuring out when to do what. I don’t believe there’s a consensus, but it seems that massed practice can be more valuable early on in learning a skill. Where you have lots of experimenting to do, and need some more time to figure out how to do something. But as you start getting the hang of it, being able to do something 5 or 10 times in a row is certainly a good sign, and means you’ve probably got a much better handle on the skill than being able to do it only 2/5 times, for instance. But being able to do something 8/10 times once you’re warmed up is unfortunately not a perfect indicator of whether you’ll be able to do it right the FIRST time, when it really counts. It’s like being able to hit 8/10 free throws in practice – which is great, but not much help if you consistently miss the first two attempts, which are the only ones you get in a real game situation.

    So this is where spaced (or better yet, random/interleaved) practice can be extremely valuable. Where you are practicing the retrieval of your skills the very first time. Which of course feels really uncomfortable at first, and does fly in the face of tradition and what feels most effective in the moment, but seems to result in better long-term retention.

    Ultimately, I don’t think we have to get rid of massed practice altogether, but I do think we should be careful about making it our “default” mode of practice, when there are lots of indications in the research that other ways of structuring our practice actually result in greater learning in the same amount of time.


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