Deliberate practice is an effective strategy that can be employed to develop and improve skills through eLearning. Let’s explore some methods learning and development (L&D) teams can use to implement deliberate practice when developing asynchronous training solutions.

Why Do Most Upskilling and Reskilling Initiatives Fail to Create the Desired Impact?

More companies are recognizing the advantage of upskilling employees versus hiring for new talent. However, skill requirements are evolving very rapidly. Not only does this mean that organizations should hire people who are flexible, adaptive and know how to learn, but training efforts — either upskilling or reskilling — should be able to build employee capabilities that drive performance.

Most training is information-heavy, but lacks direction and deliberate practice opportunities. Some L&D teams tend to focus on basic metrics such as number of attendees, consumption and reaction results instead of measuring the impact on business performance, but it doesn’t matter how much instruction takes place if employees are not given ample opportunity to practice what they learn in progressively higher stakes and realistic situations.

Learning should be designed for specific skills, leading with information acquisition but followed by deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is most effective when coupled with robust feedback loops.

How Can Learners Build Expertise?

For most organizations, each employee should share a common set of core capabilities and skills, including things like innovation, creativity, communication, stakeholder management and business and industry knowledge. Beyond a wide-ranging, limited working knowledge of those shared competencies, the most effective employees identify specialized competencies and skills on which they should focus and deepen their expertise.

According to McKinsey & Company, this is referred to as a personalized T-profile of skills (see image below):

Source: McKinsey & Company

True depth of expertise is built as employees learn on the job, use deliberate practice with coaching and feedback, and finally have the opportunity to apply what they learn on the job.

How Do You Design Learning Programs to Drive Deliberate Practice and Improve the Application of Learning on the Job?

Learning that employs deliberate practice is founded on the following principles:

  • Breaking down training programs into clearly defined specific skills. These should be concrete skills that can be explained, modeled and practiced.
  • Creating specific learning solutions that build the foundational knowledge of defined skills. This is the knowledge acquisition phase of learning.
  • Adding deliberate practice of those skills, initially in low-risk situations where participants are safe to ask questions, experiment, fail and try again. During these deliberate practice sessions, employees should receive honest and clear feedback from coaches or mentors to help drive progress and development.

How Do You Set Learners Up for Success when Using Deliberate Practice?

Deliberate practice is not always comfortable for learners. While they should feel safe to fail, practice should not be easy. In the words of the fictional football coach Ted Lasso, “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

L&D teams and leaders need to foster within learners a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Learners with a growth mindset view things like challenges as opportunities to grow instead of something to avoid, and feedback as an opportunity to learn instead of something to ignore. As Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, explains in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” it’s important for learners to consider the power of “yet.” For example:

  • I don’t understand this yet, but I will soon.
  • I can’t perform this operation yet, but I will after more practice.
  • I’m not doing this perfectly every time yet, but after working on it some more I will.

Along with a healthy growth mindset, L&D teams can help employees build lifelong learning habits by:

  1. Rewarding learning. Recognize those who put effort into learning new skills or deepening their knowledge of existing skills. Permit them to share what they’ve learned.
  2. Rewarding failure. Learners need the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned, fail, receive feedback and coaching and then try again.
  3. Teaching people how to learn. This is a good exercise at the beginning of most formal learning solutions — cues to help learners sharpen their acquisition and application skills.
  4. Encouraging managers and executives to set an example of being learners by sharing what they’re learning and how they’ve applied those things.
  5. Promote employees who learn, apply what they learn and take calculated risks, instead of those who never leave their comfort zones.

What eLearning Strategies Can Support Deliberate Practice

The following strategies have been shown to be effective when supporting deliberate practice:

  1. Microlearning: Using short bursts of easily consumable content allows learners to acquire new information and skills on the job and in the flow of work.
  2. Gamification: Gamification is a great way to engage learners in non-threatening ways that helps them apply what they’ve learned and encourages them to come back to learning content as often as they need it.
  3. Simulation-based learning: Using simulations is another way to give learners a low-stakes opportunity to apply new information. Simulations are helpful, either done asynchronously or with live coaches and mentors, because learners can receive immediate feedback on their progress, reassess their approach and then try again.
  4. Blended learning: Approaching learners from a number of modalities reinforces newly gained knowledge and creates opportunities for subject matter experts to give feedback during practice sessions.
  5. Social learning: One of the best ways to solidify knowledge is when it can be shared with others. Social learning allows participants to learn new information, apply it, assess their rate of success and share lessons learned with others. This also promotes the effectiveness of training and encourages others to actively participate.

Parting Thoughts

Deliberate practice (practice that includes coaching, feedback and iterative application of new knowledge) can greatly increase the upskilling and reskilling of employees. Training teams can use the strategies listed above to build eLearning and include directed practice to decrease learner time to proficiency.

Want to learn how to prepare an effective L&D Strategy for 2022? Download our latest eBook, “How to Conduct an L&D Audit and Prepare a Strategic Plan for the Future.”