Sixteen hours per week of deliberate practice

I have been reading and watching a lot of the late Charles Poliquin this week. In a video this morning, he talked about the amount of learning you need to do to be world-class at what you do:

Eight hours per week is the minimum you need to learn… The people that make the most money in their profession learn sixteen hours a week… The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.

Charles Poliquin

Charles Poliquin was well-read and based all his recommendations on expert knowledge, so I spent some time looking for this recommendation’s origin. I returned to the ‘Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance‘ paper by K. Anders Ericsson to see how these recommendations for developing masters compare. The article presents research from multiple sources that it takes ten years or more of necessary experience to develop the skills to produce outstanding work at a world-class level. This practice should be time-limited at 2-4 hours per day, every day, for many years. This recommendation was present in research on experts from chess, musical composition, mathematics, tennis, swimming, long-distance running, scientists, authors, and poets.

The average age of the first published works was 25.2 for scientists, and 24.2 for authors and poets and the average age at which they published their most remarkable work was 35.4 for scientists and 34.3 for authors and poets. There was an average of more than ten years between the scientist and authors first work and their best without considering the time it took learning and writing to get to the first publication. The highest performance levels were not attained just by years of experience but by deliberate efforts to improve slowly over a very long time.

Deliberate practice is a set of activities that are most effective in improving performance. It requires the motivation to do the task and effort to improve performance. These activities are repeated consistently with slight variation and should provide immediate informative feedback. The idea of deliberate practice in developing scientists and artists is very similar to athletes and musicians’ development. This development involves years of intensive preparation under an expert teacher, total emersion in the field, and most importantly, identifying the most likely activities to result in the desired achievements.

When looking at scientists, the highest performing are also those who produce a larger number of publications than others in their field. This would suggest that writing to develop arguments would be the deliberate practice that helps them develop a new published theory or idea. Writing is a demanding activity; most world-class scientists stick to a rigid daily schedule that involves writing as the first significant activity of each morning and is time blocked to 1-2 hours, leaving the rest of the day to other work.

In virtually all domains, there is evidence that the most important activity – practice, thinking, or writing- requires considerable effort and is scheduled for a fixed period of time during the day. For those exceptional individuals who sustain this regular activity for months and years, its duration limited to 2-4 hours a day, which is a fraction of their time awake.

K. Anders Ericsson

Two to four hours per working day would be equal to ten to twenty hours per week. To hit Charles Poliquin’s sixteen hours of learning per week target, we would require just over three hours of learning or around 40% of a typical eight-hour working day. The question then is, what is a Learning Designer’s deliberate practice that will allow them to become world-class, and how do I provide an environment to help Learning Designers do this deliberate practice to gain mastery?

The length of time between each iteration of a course makes the day to day work of a Learning Designer unsuitable as deliberate practice, so I need to find something more immediate. My wife is launching a company and becoming active on social media to market the brand. The kinds of skills she is learning are very similar to those that make an excellent Learning Designer—developing Learning Designers as Youtubers might be an effective strategy. Youtubers produce regular video content that is published, continually work to improve all aspects of quality, operate on social media and interacting with viewers to drive traffic to their youtube site, and using the analytics tools to track activity and inform future content. This might be a crazy idea, but it might just work.

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