Deliberate Practice In Education: What Is it? And, Should Teachers Make Use of It?

By | First Published: | Last Updated: 27 September, 2021

You may have heard about deliberate practice and the high impact it has on student achievement. But what does it involve? And should you make use of it?

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What Deliberate Practice Involves

Deliberate practice involves putting sustained effort into improving your performance. Typically, you try to improve your performance in a specific area. For example, improving your performance at playing golf, chess or the violin.

When learners engage in this form of practice, they:

  • Are motivated by a compelling desire to improve
  • Exert effort and challenge themselves to do better
  • Practice over a prolonged period
  • Often receive feedback on their efforts

Where Did the Idea Come From?

Anders Ericsson and his colleagues came up with the idea of deliberate practice during the 1990s. They:

  • Gathered a sample of musicians with a varying degree of accomplishments
  • Explained the idea of deliberate practice to them
  • Asked them to estimate how much deliberate practice they had engaged in each week of the careers

They found that high levels of deliberate practice explained differing levels of expertise. More specifically, they found that the:

  • Best musicians had cumulatively put in more than 10,000 hours
  • Good musicians had put in about 7,800 hours
  • Least accomplished musicians had put in about 4,600 hours

Research On Deliberate Practice

Since the idea came to life in the 1990s, it has been the subject of many research studies. This includes at least 2 meta-analyses.

In 2017, John Hattie released his updated list of 250+ factors that influence student achievement. It included deliberate practice as a factor with a high effect size d = 0.79.

Since then, it has become a hot topic in educational circles.

But Research On Deliberate Practice in Education Is Limited

Most of my readers work in school settings. Therefore, they are interested in using deliberate practice in their classrooms. If that’s you, there are reasons to question the applicability of John’s reported effect size of 0.79.

deliberate practice in education meta-analyses

John cites 3 meta-analyses as the source of the 0.79 effect size

  1. The first meta-analysis was conducted in 1983. This was before the idea of deliberate practice had been conceptualised. It focused on using mental practice to develop physical skills.
  2. The second meta-analysis reported the largest reported effect size. Yet, it focused exclusively on instrumental music and mainly with adults. While it included some studies involving children, none were in a classroom setting.
  3. The third meta-analysis reported the smallest effect size. It explored the use of deliberate practice across a range of domains. These included music, games, sport and education. Yet, the results for education were lower than for the other domains. Furthermore, most of the studies in this category focused on university education. Those that looked at school education merely looked at the time students spent studying.


Deliberate Practice Has Some Uses

Research does not support the universal use of deliberate practice in education. This especially true in normal school classrooms. But this does not mean that the idea is not without merit.

Focusing On Improvement Can Be Useful

Focusing on improvement, rather than just repetition has its uses. For example:

  • Improving an overall grade for a subject
  • Improving the percentage of questions correct in successive practice tests
  • Making improvements between formative and summative assignments

Spending Time & Effort Is Helpful

Putting in time and effort into improvement is likely to be helpful. However, the time exerted by school students is not likely to reach anything like that of the ‘best musicians’ in Ericsson’s original study.

Feedback Is Critical

Feedback is a powerful teaching strategy – especially when students then have an opportunity to improve.

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(MEd., MLead.)

Shaun Killian (me) is an experienced and passionate teacher, as well as a past school principal. After a heart transplant and having both my legs amputated, I am not yet capable of returning to work. Yet, my passion for helping students succeed has led me to use my time to research teaching and associated practices. I then share what I find in practical ways through this website. The greatest compliment I have ever received from a past student was I never left any student behind. That is mission of most teachers and I hope you find the information on this site useful.

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