How you practice matters for learning a skill quickly

January 7, 2014

Practice alone doesn't make perfect, but learning can be optimized if you practice in the right way, according to new research based on online gaming data from more than 850,000 people.

The research, led by psychological scientist Tom Stafford of the University of Sheffield (UK), suggests that the way you practice is just as important as how often you practice when it comes to quickly.

The new findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Stafford and Michael Dewar from The New York Times Research and Development Lab analyzed data from 854,064 people playing an online game called Axon. Players are tasked with guiding a neuron from connection to connection by clicking on potential targets, testing participants' ability to perceive, make decisions, and move quickly.

Stafford and Dewar were interested to know how practice affected ' subsequent performance in the game.

Some Axon players achieved higher scores than others despite practicing for the same amount of time. Game play data revealed that those players who seemed to learn more quickly had either spaced out their practice or had more variable early performance—suggesting they were exploring how the game works—before going on to perform better.

"The study suggests that learning can be improved—you can learn more efficiently or use the same practice time to learn to a higher level," says Stafford. "As we live longer, and as more of our lives become based around acquiring complex skills, optimal learning becomes increasingly relevant to everyone."

Using data collected from people playing games offers a new way for researchers to study learning, and has strong advantages compared to research on learning that is based in the lab. Game data provide insight into a real skill that people presumably enjoy practicing, and detailed data regarding all actions that players take as they learn to play are easily recorded.

"This kind of data affords us to look in an unprecedented way at the shape of the learning curve, allowing us to explore how the way we practice helps or hinders learning," says Stafford.

Stafford hopes to collaborate with game designers to further investigate the factors that shape optimal learning.

More information: pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/12/30/0956797613511466.abstract

Related Stories

Can games have positive effects on young people's lives?

November 15, 2013

Researchers from Birmingham City University and Birmingham Children's Hospital are exploring how computer games and game based learning can be applied in the healthcare sector in a bid to boost young people's understandings ...

With board games, it's how children count that counts

November 18, 2013

Teachers and parents like to use board games to teach skills that range from fair play to counting. When it comes to improving early number skills, a new report by Boston College and Carnegie Mellon University researchers ...

Recommended for you

How language gives your brain a break

August 3, 2015

Here's a quick task: Take a look at the sentences below and decide which is the most effective. (1) "John threw out the old trash sitting in the kitchen." (2) "John threw the old trash sitting in the kitchen out."

Neural efficiency hypothesis confirmed

July 27, 2015

One of the big questions intelligence researchers grapple with is just how differences in intelligence are reflected in the human brain. Researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded in studying further details relating to suspected ...

How does color blindness affect color preferences?

July 21, 2015

(Medical Xpress)—Dichromacy is a color vision defect in which one of the three types of cone photoreceptors is missing. The condition is hereditary and sex-linked, mostly affecting males. Although researchers have explored ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.