Deliberate Practice — Or: How to invest that 10000 hours you need to become an expert in something

An amateur practices until he gets it right.
A professional practices until he never gets it wrong.

There is this often quoted number that you need 10.000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. Others simply speak of 10 years, which results in 10.000 hours if you train for nearly 3 hours a day each and every day.

But as research by Ericsson and others pointed out, there is more to practice than the mere amount of hours. They argue for deliberate practice. What is deliberate practice? According to the nice handbook summary by Eysenck and Keane (2010), it has the following four aspects (quoted verbatim):

(1) The task is at an appropriate level of difficulty (not too easy or hard).
(2) The learner is given informative feedback about his/her performance.
(3) The learner has adequate chances to repeat the task.
(4) The learner has the opportunity to correct his/her errors.

It’s interesting to compare these criteria with how learning works in many cases, e.g., at the university. I can see it working in an apprenticeship, but in a course setting? Not really. Perhaps it’s a gap that will one day be covered by Intelligent Tutoring Systems, but today I do see a gap here.

And yeah, it’s interesting to ask — if you want to become an expert in something an invest the necessary hours — is it really deliberate practice? It that time really well spent? Or is an aspect or two missing?


Source: Eysenck, M. W. & Keane, M. T. (2010). Cognitive Psychology. A Student’s Handbook (6th ed.). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.