Practicing What You Almost Know

I got my driver’s license today!

[Imagines wild applause]

And now I understand why driving analogies are often used in describing learning models.  Having just finished Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated, this model is fresh in my mind…

comfort, learning, panic zones

To learn any new skill, you have to practice.  What and how you practice will determine how good you get at that new skill.

Practicing within your Comfort Zone won’t get you very far.

Practicing in the Panic Zone, where you’re trying to do things far beyond your current capabilities, won’t do you any better.

The sweet spot for learning is in between those two zones. The Learning Zone is where you’re pushing yourself just beyond what you already know. And you have to build on what you already know.

I read somewhere that the best way to improve is to practice what you almost know. This morning, it occurred to me that this “almost knowing” thing fits in well with the learning model above…

  • Comfort Zone – Practicing what you know.  It’s too easy and it doesn’t lead to much improvement.
  • Panic Zone – Practicing what you don’t know.  Too hard and unfamiliar.  It won’t stick.
  • Learning Zone – Practicing what you almost know.  The way to make things stick.  Starting from what you know, moving just an inch further.

The only way I could learn to drive was to build upon the skills I already possessed, by practicing within the Learning Zone.

When I look at my music practicing habits, I see that I’m rarely working in this zone.  I’ll often work on stuff that’s too easy, or too difficult.

Time to figure out what I almost know, musically, and get practicing!

“…practice is about pushing ourselves just beyond what we can currently do”

-Geoff Colvin

8 Responses to Practicing What You Almost Know

  1. Kylie says:

    You really do like diagrams, don’t you? I love this idea of practicing what you almost know. So much more sane and gentle than practicing until you want to break the piano … or the guitar … or the pen. Way more effective, too. And big congratulations on being newly licensed!

  2. Tara says:

    Christine! this is great. It is a nice clean, simple version of something I usually make much messier, trotting out Cxikszentmihalyi and the Flow theory. His theory captures the idea of learning best when the level of challenge and skill is optimal. Flow=equal levels of challenge and skill; learning=slightly higher challenge than skill; mastery=slightly higher skill than challenge; and as skill gets too high compared to challenge you slip into boredom and apathy; as challenge gets to high compared to skill you find people giving up.
    His Flow theory is good, but yours is much easier to explain concisely, and totally sums up the gist of the other. I will use it. thanks!

  3. Rebecca says:

    That simple diagram really helps me understand the point of your post. Nice! And yes, completely agree… although I can’t help but think that in order for us to get to a place where we almost know something don’t we have to go into the panic zone.. otherwise wouldn’t we just keep working on the same stuff? I think. I might be wrong though.
    At any rate, I like this post… a lot. I’m 99% certain that I’ll be visualizing your diagram when learning experiences come up for me. Thanks!

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