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Does Practice Really Make Perfect in Learning?

  • 6 Min Read

Practice is such an important element of the Programmatic Learning framework. Organisations should include opportunities for learners to practice and apply their newly acquired skills in the “real world” throughout learning programmes.


Learners will forget up to 90% of what they learn within one month, if it’s not applied. So it’s safe to say that the old saying “practice makes perfect” is baked in truth. Practice really does make perfect. However most corporate learning solutions do not truly facilitate practice. Often, learners will take a course and never apply that information, which increases the likelihood that they’ll forget most of the knowledge imparted.   

Practice is an integral part of successful learning programmes, especially when tackling more complex organisational challenges. This type of programme-based or programmatic learning, has six key components, of which practice is just one. Programmatic learning provides much more detailed, blended learning interventions which span weeks or months, combining data-driven learning interventions with people interaction, feedback and practice to create learning that really creates behavioural change.  

So how can we leverage technology to ensure we’re encouraging and facilitating practice throughout our learning programmes? In this third element of our programmatic learning blog series, we’re going to explore how technology can create opportunities for real practice.  

Why is practice important for learning? 

The importance of practicing a skill comes from the art of repetition. Repetition is one of the most powerful mental processes, as it tells your brain that this particular action, idea or task is worth remembering. So as your learners repeatedly apply the knowledge, information or skill they’ve learned in the ‘real world’, over time it will become ‘second nature’. Take the first time you drove a car for example, you had to really think about how to put your car in gear, check your mirrors and how to maneuver. Over the course of your driving lessons, this became a more natural process, and you didn’t have to think about it so much. And now, years after passing your test, you hardly think about these subset tasks at all. 

This art of repetition is increasingly important when it comes to leadership and soft skills, such as communication and teamwork. These complex skills often require more repetition in order to master them. But how do we empower our people to apply and practice the skills we’ve taught them? Often, learners will leave the learning process and be catapulted back into their busy lives, thus feeling as though they have no time to apply these newly acquired skills. So we need to scrap the belief that learning stops when you leave the classroom or close down the learning module.  

Engaging busy learners 

When you’re developing a learning programme, what do you consider your biggest competitor to engagement? Other courses? Your learners day job? Chit-chat from their colleagues? 

The truth is, you’re now competing for your learners attention against much more. You’re in direct competition with social media platforms, TV, online streaming platforms, and any other catch-up service you can imagine. Now that the majority of our workforce are working remotely, you’re competing with their children, homeschooling and all of the other distractions Covid-19 has brought with it. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to capture learner attention. So how do we get people to engage with long-term learning programmes? How do we get them to apply the skills we’ve taught them when they walk away from the obvious learning intervention? The answer is simple: use technology to encourage practice.  

Using technology to continue the learning process  

Technology empowers us to extend the learning process and enable our learners to embrace continuous learning. With technology we can apply programmatic learning to its full extent. We can integrate a range of learning activities (e learning modules, discussion forums, job aids and so on) across weeks or months. And require learner participation over an extended amount of time. Through this we can facilitate repeated practice – and in turn increase the likelihood of long-term retention and mastery.  

So what might this look like in reality? One way in which you can use technology to empower practice is by integrating practice as a learning task. For example, prompting learners to practice a skill, against the clock. Once the countdown starts, they’ll have a matter of days to practice the skill and log the action in your learning platform. The cynics amongst us may already be thinking of the ways our people can cheat the system with this kind of learning task. But there are ways to overcome this. For example, getting your learners to upload evidence of task completion (i.e. uploading a recording of a presentation). By including practice as a learning activity, you are showing your learners that practice is not optional, it is in fact a critical step in learning and they must complete it.  

The importance of feedback 

Your learners will recognise that they are embarking on a journey from the outset of their learning programme. They will recognise that the programme takes a blended approach, over a period of time and will allow them to learn, apply and receive feedback to refine their approach. And this final step is equally as important as practice.  

When a learner leaves a formal learning intervention, they are likely to have a slightly different interpretation of the skill acquired than their peers. In fact, they may have interpreted it entirely wrongly. Therefore, when they practice their newly acquired ‘skill’ they’re in fact practicing wrong behaviour. In these instances, the repetition of practice will work in the exact same way as if they were applying the skill correctly. And will fuel the growth of bad habits and ineffective working styles. 

For this reason, it is critical that when you are including practice in your learning programmes, you are also including review and feedback cycles. This can come in a range of ways, and can be from tutors, subject matter experts or their peers. But no matter the form it comes in, it is a critical step in mastering the leadership and soft skills you are trying to impart.  

A culture of continuous learning  

One of the most critical steps in integrating practice into your learning programmes is shifting mindsets in both your L&D teams and learners. It’s time for L&D to stop worrying about courses vs. resources. Content is only a small part of a wider solution, and the crux of the solution comes down to engaged and motivated learners – who are willing to embrace long-term, continuous learning. If your L&D team is focused on output of courses and resources, and your learners are more interested in completing a course than learning from it, you will struggle to ensure practice.  

To overcome these familiar challenges faced by L&D teams worldwide, it’s time to look to programmatic learning. Download our free ebook to learn more about the framework that will transform your learning organisation and ensure that practice really does make perfect. 

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Table of Contents
  1. Why is practice important for learning? 
  2. Engaging busy learners 
  3. Using technology to continue the learning process  
  4. The importance of feedback 
  5. A culture of continuous learning