So what is deliberate practice? It is not inherently fun nor is it intrinsically rewarding. It is work. Deliberate practice is effortful practice with full concentration and includes a mechanism by which the results of the practice can be evaluated and improved upon in future sessions. Often a coach or master teacher oversees the deliberate practice, chooses individualized training tasks, and evaluates the results of the training. Experts more often engage in deliberate practice during the morning; research has supported that we have the greatest capacity for sustained, engaged and demanding cognitive activity during the morning. Research has also supported the many anecdotal accounts that four hours is the length of time that deliberate practice can be sustained. Mind you, these experts did not start by engaging in deliberate practice for four hours a day, they worked up to it. Also, I want to emphasize that research on expert performance underscores the importance of sleep and that experts tended to spend more time sleeping than a comparable reference group; they maintained that being well rested was crucial for engaging in deliberate practice.
One of the results of engagement in deliberate practice is enhanced pattern recognition. Ericsson and Charness present research showing that pattern recognition differentiates expert from novice chess players. In one study they cite, a chess game was set up mid-game and expert and novice players were given a moment to study the board. Then, both groups were asked to remember the location of the pieces. The experts exhibited enhanced recall of the location of the pieces compared with the recall of the novice players. But, and this is an important but, this superior performance in recall only occurred when the chess pieces were in a meaningful pattern on the board. When the pieces were randomly placed on the board, the recall was about equal.
This result tells us that experts look at the configuration of pieces as a whole and examine it from a broader perspective. They recognize meaningful patterns and by focusing on the patterns, they are able to remember better the location of the individual pieces. Novice players view the configuration of pieces as individual items and examine it from a narrower perspective. Although when the pieces were randomly placed on the board and no meaningful patterns existed, the experts’ previous advantage was stripped away and both groups were relying on straight recall. So, what differentiates the expert chess players is their ability to examine a board from a broader perspective and their ability to recognize meaningful patterns on the chessboard.
Of course, these two pieces are a must-read and I am looking forward to the next two.