Learn Anything in 20 Hours
Over the holidays, Josh Bersin posted a video link on Twitter that intrigued me. It read, “How to learn anything. Amazing.” I followed the link and for a little more than twenty minutes, I watched Josh Kaufman, author and business advisor, reveal a new approach for acquiring skills quickly with a small amount of practice each day. I was captivated.
Josh begins his talk by clarifying that the 10,000 hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, originated from studies conducted by K. Anders Ericsson, a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University recognized as one of the world’s leading theoretical and experimental researchers on expertise. Ericsson asserts that the more time you spend deliberately practicing a skill, the better you will get.
In designing Practice, we studied Ericsson. Deliberate practice is not simply endless hours of practice alone, but rather it involves:
- Identifying skills to be developed based on specific needs
- Performing repetitive tasks designed to improve weaknesses
- Practicing outside of your comfort zone
- Receiving immediate and specific feedback and adapting as necessary
Ericsson’s studies focus on people who have reached the pinnacle of their careers in professions that are highly competitive and easily ranked. For these people to be the best of the best, they spend around 10,000 hours over 10 years deliberately practicing their skills.
Kaufman argues that society took the 10,000 hours to mastery idea and put it through a “society wide game of telephone.” He believes that over time, as the 10,000 hour rule passed from one person to another, it became “it takes 10,000 hours to master something, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, it takes 10,000 hours to become good at something, and it takes 10,000 hours to learn something.” Kaufman strongly contends that the last statement, it takes 10,000 hours to learn something, is “demonstrably untrue.”
How to Master a Skill
Rather than 10,000 hours, Kaufman's research indicates that going from nothing to being really good at something takes 20 hours of practice, not 10,000 hours of practice. To make these 20 hours fruitful, Kaufman outlines five seemingly simple steps a person must follow:
- Identify what skill you want to learn and how well you want to perform that skill.
- Deconstruct the skill you want to learn. Break down the overall skill into a series of sub-skills so you can focus on the elements of practice that give you the target performance you identified in step one.
- Research just enough about the skill you want to learn so 1) you can identify the important sub-skills necessary in step two; and 2) you can self-correct as you practice.
- Pre-commit 20 hours of focus.
- Remove any barriers to practice. Make it easy to sit down and actually do the thing you want to get better at.
I walked away from Kaufman’s YouTube video excited. I began to think, how can you use Practice to help your learners follow the 20 hour rule and become really good at certain skills? I broke down Kaufman's five-step formula and created a worksheet you can follow to put the 20 hour rule into practice on Practice. Let’s give it a try.
Step 1: IDENTIFY
What skill do you want your learners to become really good at?
Insert skill here:
Step 2: DECONSTRUCT
What are the sub-skills that make up the overall skill you identified above? For example, if you want your learners to become great at basketball, you’ll need to break down the different skills necessary to master basketball. Such sub-skills may include dribbling, free throw shooting, boxing out, and so on.
List your sub-skills here:
Step 3: Research
Pick one sub-skill listed above. What do your learners need to know in order to hone and develop that sub-skill? Sticking with the basketball analogy, let’s pick the sub-skill free throw shooting. To successfully shoot a free throw, your learners need to:
- square their body to the basket;
- keep their eyes on the front rim at all times;
- and follow through.
List the key components of your sub-skill here:
In addition to identifying the components of a sub-skill, identify an expert (either yourself or someone else) that can demonstrate the sub-skill’s key components:
- Expert: ______________________________________
Let’s take a break here.
The sections you just filled out, are going to provide you with what you what you need to create an effective Practice exercise. For those that are unfamiliar, a Practice exercise follows this formula:
- Challenge: Learners watch a video scenario you produced and upload a video response to that scenario. In other words, learners practice their skills.
- Peer Review: Learners critique each other’s video submissions. Put another way, learners help point out each other’s strengths and weaknesses and help each other adapt their skills.
- Expert Response: Learners identify their strengths and weaknesses by comparing their response to an expert’s response.
The sub-skill you identified above will create the basis for your Challenge stage. Again, sticking with the basketball example, let’s see how using the sub-skill free throw shooting plays out. The Challenge video you create can tell a story like this:
Imagine you’re on the free throw line of the state basketball championship, there are 10 seconds left in the game. The game is tied and you have one free throw left. Demonstrate how you would shoot that free throw.
After your learners submit videos demonstrating how they would shoot a free throw in the last seconds of a game, they enter the Peer Review stage. In Kaufman’s model, learners self-correct their practice. In other words, they practice in isolation. In Practice’s model, learners get a lot help from their friends. Learners rely on their peers to critique their strengths and weaknesses and ultimately guide them on where to adapt their practice.
To help your learners correct each other, you provide guiding questions or rubric questions derived from the key components of the sub-skill in the Peer Review stage. Taking the key components we broke down for free throws, the guiding questions could look something like this:
- Rubric Criteria: Did the learner square his or her shoulders to the basket? Feedback: Yes; Somewhat; No
- Rubric Criteria: Did the learner keep his or her eyes on the front of the rim? Feedback: Yes; Somewhat; No
- Rubric Criteria: Did the learner follow through? Feedback: Yes; Somewhat; No
When learners complete their Peer Review, they unlock the Expert Response stage. Before you assign your exercise, you record either yourself shooting a free throw or you ask an expert to capture and share a video of his or her free throw. Ideally, you or your expert will also record an explanation breaking down each key component. When your learners watch this video they will juxtapose their practice to that of an expert and continue to identify their strengths and weaknesses and adapt as necessary.
In Ericsson’s 10,000 hour model, learners have the benefit of a dedicated instructor giving them immediate, specific feedback. You are working with dozens of learners if not more. It is not possible for you to give all learners immediate, specific feedback on their practice so that they can adapt accordingly. Practice’s Peer Review and Expert Response stages help you scale your feedback. In the Peer Review stage you guide learners to recognize what the key components are of a certain sub-skill. In the Expert Response stage, you give learners an example they can model. In essence, Practice helps you replicate yourself.
Step 4: Pre-commit 20 hours
The next step in Kaufman’s five step 20 hour rule, is to pre-commit 20 hours of practice. On average, each Practice exercise takes your learners roughly 2 hours to complete. To ensure that your learners pre-commit 20 hours of practice, create at least 10 Practice exercises each focused on the sub-skills of an overall skill you want your learners to get really good at.
Step 5: Remove barriers to practice
Removing barriers to practice is hard for you to manage for your learners. Ultimately it's up to your learners to remove their own barriers. With that said, you use Practice to either train your employees or teach your students. In both scenarios, your learners want to excel. Employees want to be great at their jobs and students want to be great at their studies. That motivation coupled with the fact that Practice is more fun than a typical talking head video lecture leads us to believe that your learners will have trouble choosing the next Netflix or Amazon series over your exercise ;)
Get by with a little help from...
Besides the obvious time difference, the major difference between Ericsson’s 10,000 hour theory and Kaufman’s 20 hour theory is who delivers feedback to help the learner adapt and improve their skills. Under Ericsson’s theory, the learner relies on a dedicated instructor that will provide him or her immediate, specific feedback. Ericsson research notes:
“[T]o ensure effective learning, subjects ideally should be given explicit instructions about the best method and be supervised by a teacher to allow individualized diagnosis of errors, informative feedback, and remedial part training.”
Kaufman, on the other hand, believes that any individual learner can do the research necessary to identify a target performance’s sub-skills and thus, self-correct as the learner falls off track during practice.
In Practice’s pedagogical design, you are the guide on the side. You identify an overall performance target for your learners. You then break down the sub-skills of that overall target. By breaking down the overall target, you provide your learners with the arsenal they need to correct each other. Finally, you provide one demonstration for all your learners to watch and learn from. Let's take a simple look at the differences:
- In an 10,000 hour world, you are constantly on call. Learners get by with a lot of help from you.
- In a 20 hour world, you are MIA. Learners get by with a lot of help from themselves.
- In a Practice world, you are the guide on the side. Learners get by with a little help from you, a little help from themselves, and a lot of help from their friends.
Go ahead. Give it a try.