Monday, May 20, 2013

Deliberate practice in apprentice learning

‘Learning by doing it’ has been one of the most frequent ways of knowing coded from ‘learning a trade’ project interview transcripts. The literature is helpful with respect to practice-based learning, in particular, the literature on expertisedeliberate practice, the 10,000 hours rule and motor skills learning in sports.

Deliberate practice implies ‘knowing how to learn’. To be proficient at practising a motor skill means continual appreciation of what the body does, commitment to a regime of structured practice, diligence to work through repetitive practice, and reflective cycles to ensure each iteration of motor activity leads to small and sometimes significant improvements. Optimum deliberate practice also requires the learner to know when to seek assistance when required, work out whether to accept recommendations from coaches etc. along with know how to implement suggested improvement and also be attuned to ‘messages’ / feedback from tools, machinery, materials, ingredients etc. (i.e. socio-materiality).

The result is reflected in changes to learners’ muscular/skeletal and neuro-physical structures, leading to the merging of physical and cognitive motor skills learning. In essence, practice becomes embodied and merged into tacit knowledge frameworks.

To accomplish deliberate practice, the task to be learnt needs to be well-defined. Task performance feedback needs to follow performance and there is then opportunity to repetitiously practice the skill. In the ‘learning a trade’ data, the opportunities to engage in workplace tasks and to repeat tasks until learnt are readily identified. However, feedback is rarely mentioned. In some cases, feedback is only availed if the apprentice makes mistakes, so there is the outcomes from learning through making errors.

Motor skill learning in sports contributions several concepts. One is the need to support physical skill learning with mental imagery and the other is the use of analogy, instead of overloading the learner with copious verbal instructions. Therefore, motor skill learning through deliberate practice includes not only the need to practice in a reflective way but to also hone mental imagery and mental associative skills. ‘Learning by watching’ provides some of the models for mental imagery and coaching with the feedback triggers for on-going improvement of performance. The individual learner still has to be cognisant of all the various sensory inputs, advice from others and attuned to messages both from within themselves (the mental imagery etc. ) and surrounding their work tasks (the socio-materiality aspect). Guidelines for learners will need to include ways for them to become more metacognitive about how they approach the learning of practical trade skills.