Crème de la Crème: Innate Talent or Effective Practice?

We only have to look to media to observe very talented individuals and teams. Sports, theater, music, even businesses, all have individuals that stand out above the rest as more talented. But what makes one person appear more talented than another? How does one achieve excellence while another does not? Is it talent, environment, genes?
Daniel Coyle, in his book The Talent Code, seeks to find answers to these questions by traveling to what he calls “talent hotbeds” (Coyle, 2009, p. 12) i.e.,  places where there seems to be an unusually high number of talented individuals. According to Coyle, he expected to find “world-class speed power, and grace” (Coyle, 2009, p. 12). Although he doesn’t say it, I think what he means is that he expected world-class facilities, great coaches, and the finest equipment. Instead he found “chicken-wire Harvards,” which were small, underfunded environments. In these unlikely places were very focused individuals who arduously perfected at their craft by making “small failures” (Coyle, 2009, p. 13) and then correcting them until the skill could be repeated with perfection.

Coyle seems to suggest in his first chapter, “The Sweet Spot,” that talent is not innate; it is created. His premise is that talent is cultivated by making mistakes and correcting them, calling this method “deep practice” (Coyle, 2009, p. 16). According to the author, deep practice is the ability to practice “effectively” (Coyle, 2009, p. 13) which creates superior skills. An example Coyle uses for this hypothesis is that Brazilian soccer players developed crucial soccer skills because the players grew up playing a game called fotsal and thereby developed skills essential for soccer “without even realizing it” (Coyle, 2009, p. 28). Therefore, when the Brazilian soccer players are on the field, they have an advantage. Using Coyle’s reasoning, if one mastered riding a unicycle, riding a bicycle would be a breeze.

In this chapter, Coyle (2009) also conjectures effective practice involves purposeful practice (Coyle, 2009, p. 14). Often effective practice means that the person can practice something without fretting that the mistakes will be a negative experience. He uses an example of a simulator to practice flying before flying an actual plane (Coyle, 2009, p. 24). There are many mistakes a pilot can make while in the air that would be a very negative experience! Therefore, it would be prudent to find a way to practice on the ground using a simulator. Correcting mistakes goes beyond simulators of course; correcting mistakes allows individuals to perfect their craft. According to Coyle:When you’re practicing deeply, the world’s usual rules are suspended.

You use time more efficiently. Your small efforts produce big, lasting results. You have positioned yourself at a place of leverage where you can capture failure and turn it into a skill (Coyle, 2009, p. 19).

Although I agree the the conjecture that paying attention to how we practice will certainly make for better practice and if we practice “deeply” enough it may turn into a skill, Coyle is unable to prove that practice makes talent. Most of us have all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect,” but  the author goes beyond that with the supposition that practice “might be the way to forge the blade itself” (Coyle, 2009, p. 19). This is the argument that the writer is unable to prove. I have practiced many things that I can do much better for the effort, but a talented person beside me doing the same thing will produce better results. For example, I bake and decorate cakes. With years of practice, I can make a cake that is moist and delicious. I can also ice the cake very smooth and even. This takes skill; I have practiced for many years and I am good at it. But what I can’t do is create beautiful flowers to go on the cake. I have practiced making flowers out of icing  for several years and no matter how hard I try, I’m not good at it. (I use fresh flowers.) My eighteen-year-old daughter, on the other hand, can make flowers out of gumpaste icing that are so perfect, they look real. And she practiced, at most, two days. She has talent, it’s innate.  She can “practice deeper” and hone her skill, add a variety of flowers to her repertoire, but the talent is already there.

Innate talent aside, Coye makes a very convincing argument that effective, purposeful practice will make  stronger and better skills. He illustrates this argument by telling the story of Simon Clifford. After watching the Brazilians playing fotsal and being convinced that this is what makes them such good soccer players, Clifford took an underdeveloped group of soccer players, taught them fotsal (effective practice), and went on to foster winning soccer players (Coyle, 2009, p. 28-29).

After reading the first chapter of The Talent Code, I recommend the book. If you are wondering, like Coyle, why some people have the skills to make it to the top, while others do not, then this book will make you ponder, and perhaps practice harder, to learn that skill you always wanted to learn.

References
Coyle, D. (2009). “The Sweet Spot.” The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (pp 11-29). The Bantam Dell Publishing Group. Retrieved from:  http://issuu.com/rabberson/docs/the_talent_code_chapter1?mode=embed&backgroundColor=FFFFFF&layout=http%3A%2F%2Fskin.issuu.com%2Fv%2Fcolor%2Flayout.xml

I have become a MOOC Junkie

Tags

I had no idea. No idea at all. Six months ago I couldn’t even spell MOOC and now I am totally addicted. (If you don’t know what a MOOC is, see the video and explanation at the end of this post.)

It all started because the college where I work (Cuyahoga Community College, or Tri-C) received a Bill and Melinda Gates grant to develop a MOOC. We built a four-week MOOC in pre-algebra. My math skills are so deficient, I decided to take the course myself. I took the course seriously and increased my math knowledge. After I finished the math MOOC I took a course on Open Educational Resources from SUNY Buffalo. Hmmm….I began looking around.  I stumbled upon a plethora of MOOCs in a variety of interesting subjects. I think I’ve signed up for 10 so far.

I am now taking English Composition offered by Duke University; Gamification offered by the University of Pennsylvania;  Rhetorical Composing offered by The Ohio State University; and next week I begin Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence offered by Case Western Reserve University. These courses are all very professionally developed and I am learning as much in these MOOCs as I have in most of my online courses that I paid to attend! Of course, a MOOC does not offer credit; at most participants receive a certificate of completion. But if the objective is professional development or self development, MOOCs are awesome.

There is a caveat, however. MOOCs have homework and scheduled assignments just like any other online class. Most of them also have additional resources that will enhance in-class learning. It takes commitment to reap the knowledge these classes have to offer. If you are a junkie, like me, you may find you need to drop one you really wanted to take. But the courses you finish will expand your knowledge. And it’s free.

 

MOOC is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course. According to Wikipedia, MOOCs were coined by Dave Cormier. And it just so happens I have a YouTube video from Dave.

 

Gamification: It just keeps getting more fun.

Tags

,

April 1st (no fooling) I begin a course on Gamification. I’m beginning to think that selling a book is a very good incentive for an instructor to do all the hard work involved in building and facilitating a course for free. The textbook, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business, is suggested, not required, but I found the book worth the price (under 6 dollars for the Kindle edition) and should prepare me for the class starting April 1.

If you are interested in games and how they can be used in business and education, you can find the course in the coursea catalog. The course is called Gamification and is a University of Pennsylvania course; the instructor is Kevin Werbach, one of the authors of the book. You don’t get college credit for the course but if you successfully complete the course above a threshold score, you will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor. Plus you learn something interesting!

Open Educational Resourses

Tags

,

I participated in a MOOC (massive open online course) called OER-101: Locating, Creating, Licensing and Utilizing OERs. The MOOC was hosted by CourseSites and was created by SUNY Buffalo. If they offer it again, I recommend taking it if you want to learn more about open educational resources, creative commons licensing, and open textbooks. It was a real eye opener for me. I am now a firm believer in creative common licensing. After you watch this video, I hope you will be too.

MOOC e-Learning and Digital Cultures

I just signed up for the eLearning and Digital Culture MOOC by the University of Edinburgh. Estimated time for coursework is three to five hours a week and students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructors. So Cool! I’m doin’ it!

E-learning and Digital Cultures is aimed at teachers, learning technologists, and people with a general interest in education who want to deepen their understanding of what it means to teach and learn in the digital age. The course is about how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through “narratives”, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology.

Changing Course: Tracking Online Education

Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States
is a report on higher education online learning within the US. With help from the College Board, 2,800 colleges’ and universities’ chief academic officers gave their opinion on questions about the nature and extent of online education. I am going to highlight some of the data below that I find interesting. And then I often add my two cents.

Online learning consists of courses with at least 80% of the course online. Blended is courses with 30% to 80% of the instruction online, and Face-to-face courses are courses with less than 30% is taught online.

MOOCS

Only 2.6% of the institutions have MOOCS and the officers are very diverse on their opinion whether they think MOOCs will be sustainable or not but many believe that MOOCs will give them opportunities to learn about online learning. The interesting thing that the report found was that it is the colleges that offer the most MOOCs are the ones that don’t believe they are sustainable. That’s interesting. Maybe it is because they see the MOOCs as they are presented today are more of a public service. It would be interesting to know.The report did find that it is the two year colleges that believe they “have the ability to scale their online offerings”.

43% think that MOOCs drive students to their institutions. 50% agree that MOOCs are good for students to determine if online instruction will work for them. Oh man. MOOCs are too different from a quality online course to make that judgement.

Is Online Learning Strategic?

A large number, almost 70%, think that online learning is critical to their long term strategy.  I feel bad for the other 30%.

How Many Students are Learning Online?

Over 6.7 million students are taking at least one course online. This is around 32% of all students.  Well the numbers speak for themselves here.

62% of the institutions offer complete online programs. I think it is the way to go, especially for the post-graduate degrees. We work during the day and go to school at night. Only if our program isn’t offered locally, we can still take the classes that are meaningful to us. Yeah.

Does it take more Faculty Time and Effort.

44% of public colleges think so but only 24% of for profit colleges think it takes longer. Could it be that the privates have more Tech savvy faculty or have hired instructional designers to build the course?

What about learning outcomes? How do they compare to face-to-face (f2f).

77% think online is at least as good as f2f.  Perhaps we have learned how to make online better over the years, schools often hire instructional designers to help with the courses.  I wonder what the number would be if the students were answering the questions. After all, these figures are perceptions. And, the report notes that the chief academic officers are more positive about these figures than the faculty.

Are the Faculty beginning to buy in to Online learning.

It’s still low. Only 30 percent believe online learning is a legitimate method for learning. I’m wondering how many of the remaining 70% have been never taken or have taught an online course.

What are the barriers to adopting online learning?

Many think that students are not as disciplined. Okay. But are students disaplined in the classroom? It depends on the course. When I was in college, I had a professor read from the book. That was his lecture, no kidding. I also had a teacher make history so alive that I was never board. My guess is that the teacher that read from the book would not motivate me in an online class and the teacher that made history so real would find a way to do that online.

What is Online Learning According to the Report

Online learning is courses with at least 80% of the course online. Blended is courses with 30% to 80% of the instruction online, and Face-to-face courses are courses with less than 30% is taught online.

Allen, I. Elaine & Seaman, Jeff. (2013). Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group.

Multidisciplinary Design

The world is changing and to survive we must change with it. No longer an industrial society, we have to embrace technology and innovation to compete. But what drives technology and innovation? What makes one product more successful than another? Perhaps design drives innovation.

Higher education matters because it drives innovation and economic transformation. Higher education helps to produce economic growth, which in turn contributes to national prosperity….Employing graduates creates innovation, enabling firms to identify and make more effective use of knowledge, ideas and technology.

However, in order for design to drive innovation, students need to be knowledgeable in other disciplines other than design. According to the report on Multi-disciplinary Design Education in the UK, innovation drives new skills and a supply of differently skilled people drives innovation. Therefore, we need people who can not only design but have had exposure to other disciplines other than their own and are comfortable working with teams in many disciplines.

Designers, in order to be competitive, need skills beyond design in order to be competitive.

  1. They need to be able to understand and articulate the client’s needs and markets.
  2. Designers need the communication skills to explain their work to employers.
  3. Designers often business owners  so they need entrepreneurial skills as well.
  4. Designers need to gain exposure to a variety of established businesses, writing design briefs and working in teams with authentic businesses.
  5. Designers that have a broader view of science and technology so they can work with the subject experts.
  6. Working with engineering students, materials scientists and computing specialists will help designers  know more about the design of environmentally sustainable products.

There are many ways for universities to integrate multidisciplinary design in their courses. They can use authentic client projects, mentors from businesses, bring in visiting lecturers, help students get internships in businesses other than design businesses. This exposure will raise the likelihood  their students will be employed and help drive the economy in innovation.

Multi-disciplinary Design Education in the UK. Report and recommendations from the Multi-Disciplinary Design Network, November 2010.

Quote:  Lord Browne of Madingley (2010). Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education. as quoted in Multi-disciplinary Design Education in the UK. Report and recommendations from the Multi-Disciplinary Design Network, November 2010.