Learning, thinking and doing
Learning, thinking and doing

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Learning, thinking and doing

2.2.3 Doing

Finally, learning how to act or perform in particular ways is essential for the development of all kinds of intellectual and physical skills. For example, we need to be able to learn how to create a variety of kinds of written communication, or how to present complex information in a clear diagram, or to decide how a team will structure its work, and so on. No amount of explanation of how to compose a clear technical report, for example, would provide convincing proof that we could actually produce such a report ourselves. For that we would be expected to offer a practical example or demonstration. In some cases the skill really does need to be demonstrated, for it consists in how something is achieved as well as in the end result. Most of us have probably decorated a room to reasonable effect, but the expert decorator not only produces a good end result, but does so more quickly and with minimal waste. We can fully appreciate the expertise only if we watch the skill in action. Similarly, our skill as a team player could be best appreciated through observation of at least some elements of our interaction with the team in achieving its goal.

The learning we need in order to become proficient in a skill or a performance of some kind may well draw on both memorisation and understanding (as outlined above), but it will also require other activities. The learner needs experience of practising the skill under controlled conditions and with effective feedback which enables the development of improved performance and strengthened capability.

Take the skill of playing a musical instrument as an example. Most beginning learners are given mnemonics or chanting rhymes by which to remember the names of all the lines and spaces in the written conventions of the music they are to play, because they simply must know these (and other conventions) by heart. Their reaction to the printed page must be automatic recognition of the notes and symbols used, together with the appropriate physical response. A general understanding about musical conventions and how to look up the names of musical notation will not help to develop such performance skills. However, the fluency of physical response essential for a competent performance will require much more than memorisation. It requires extensive practice and rehearsal of graded examples of music, with detailed feedback from an expert and continual self-evaluation. As musicianship develops, understanding of style and musical genres will become important in helping the player to interpret what the composer intended and in creating the appropriate sounds and effects.

It may be that people underestimate the degree to which practice (rather than innate ability) is required for skill to develop in a whole range of abilities. Studies of musicians have certainly demonstrated that inherited ability plays a much smaller part in exceptional achievement in performance than many people suppose (Sloboda, 1993). Much more important than innate ability is the length of time spent in daily practice over many years, plus exposure to music. On the basis of studies of this kind, the value of practice with developmental feedback has been emphasised as the crucial activity for skill formation and improvement. This applies to the skills of both communication and learning which are included in the course learning outcomes for this course.

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