The Importance of Practice in Learning and Memory

In education and learning it is important to understand that skills and concepts require different approaches to learning. They also require an understanding of the goals of different types of Practise.  Different strategies will be appropriate for different goals. Effective learning also requires an understanding of the differences in the type of knowledge with which you need to engage. There are differences between Declarative and Procedural Knowledge. 

Types of Practice

When it comes to recall of essential knowledge, such as key terms or times tables, the goal is Automaticity. When it comes to deeper understanding and the ability to process, the goal is entering a Flow state.

1. Automaticity

Automaticity requires minimal mental effort. Automaticity explains why it is possible to drive home without conscious thought when you are tired. Learners need to regularly and repeatedly practise these skills until they become routine and require little or no effort to recall. The key here is repetition!

2. Flow State

When learners are engaged in an activity at which they are skilled so that their focus is so deep they do not notice time pass, they are in Flow State. The state was identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This state is usually characterised by enjoyment and high engagement. Tips for engaging in learning at this level include:

Blocking all distraction totally

What you are doing is irrelevant to achieving Flow. What is important is to concentrate attention on the task at hand so fully that you momentarily forget everything else!

Types of Knowledge

Procedural Knowledge: 

  • Process, Skills Strategies- practise small amounts with immediate feedback (chunking)
  • Wet Cement theory- it is easy to fix problems early!
  • Goal is Automaticity
  • Feedback is needed immediately. Focus on Teach Assess Correct Test (TACT). The Look/Read/Cover/Write/Check strategy to learn to spell is an example of this type of feedback.

Declarative Knowledge:

  • Goal is understanding of information
  • 3 to 4 exposures is a MINIMUM for practise.
  • 2 day gap maximum between exposures is great for spaced repetition of practise
  • Focus is upon repetition of review and revise by learner
  • Feedback is useful soon but does not always need to be immediate

So the big Take Away?

Practise! Practise! And then Practise again!

The school breaks are great times to book extra lessons to refine and hone a particular skill or lock and load an important understanding.

Don’t put it off- practise today!

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