There are a number of myths regarding teaching, training and learning that have been around for years and just won’t seem to go away. In some cases it is simply a matter of, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. You have heard some of these terms and references for years and in some cases from some highly educated and credentialed individuals. You have even read them in books written by some smart people. You may even have been taught these in some of your instructor certification and instructor development courses. I will address three of the most common myths this week and an additional two next Tuesday.
The 10,000 Hour Rule – There is no 10,000 Rule. This is a phrase created by the author Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell claimed it was based on the work of Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Ericsson is recognized as the world’s foremost authority on deliberate practice and is an expert in the field of professional development. Gladwell took a small slice of Ericsson’s work, misinterpreted it, coined the term “The 10,000 Hour Rule” and a myth was born. Ericsson worked to dispel that myth from the time Gladwell published that book in 2008 until Ericsson’s death in June of 2020. Ericsson’s position was that people who have obtained expertise in an area of performance generally do so after hundreds, or thousands of hours of purposeful and deliberate practice and they continue to enhance their skills through continued deliberate practice. As trainers we need to pay attention to Dr. Ericsson’s work on Purposeful and Deliberate Practice and stop the myth of the 10,000 Hour Rule. Ericsson’s book Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise, is a good read to understand his work and the concepts of purposeful and deliberate practice.
It takes 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions of a skill for it to be instinctive. – This is much like the 10,000 Hour Rule. It assumes that repetition is going to result in a high level of automatic, transferable skill development. I have had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Tim Lee twice for The Excellence in Training Academy. Dr. Lee is a professor emeritus in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and co-author of Motor Control and Learning and Motor Learning and Performance with Richard Schmidt PhD. Dr. Lee explained to me, “It’s not just repetition. The attainment of expertise involves changing, adapting and trying to improve to move to that next level.” No one knows how many “reps” it takes to create a habitual response or a transferable skill we can apply in new and novel situations. Variability in practice, interleaving skills during training, desirable difficulties, spaced practice, effortful retrieval of the process and training with imagination and emotion are all keys to skill development and improvement.
Muscle Memory – Muscles don’t have memory. As Andrew Huberman PhD, a professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at the Stanford School of Medicine and Founder of the Huberman Lab at Stanford says, “There is no such thing as muscle memory. Muscles are dumb. They don’t have a history or a memory. It is the neurons that control those muscles and their firing patterns in which all of the information for motor patterns are stored. It is therefore neural memory, not muscle memory.”
In the interview for The Excellence in Training Academy talking about myths of motor learning Dr. Lee explained, “Skills and motor skills that we retain are a result of changes in the brain, new neural connections being made over time and that, working with the central nervous system allows us to perform motor skills in skilled ways. Skills aren’t store in the muscles, they are stored in the brain.” Lee uses the example of writing your name to explain why muscle memory is a myth. While you generally write your name with your dominant hand you can also write it with your non-dominant hand, your big toe in the sand at the beach and with a paintbrush held between your teeth. While they would not all look exactly the same, there would be consistent traits in all of them. If memories were stored only in the muscles of your dominant hand you would not be able to do this.
We all need to take time to reflect and determine if we are continuing to perpetuate any of these myths. Many of us likely have at one point or another, because of what we were taught, what we were told was “fact”, or someone put the word “rule” behind a concept or small slice of information and soon it somehow becomes a fact. The 21 Foot Rule is an example of this happening in law enforcement.
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