I have read numerous books and articles on the subject of teaching and learning. There are a number of books out now, notably a best seller by Malcolm Gladwell (http://www.gladwell.com/) called Outliers, whose subject is human performance (he wrote Blink and The Tipping Point and all three were on best sellers lists at the same time). The research on expertise and human performance that many of these books draw upon relates to "Deliberate Practice." Attached are (1.) a short summary / update on Expert Performance and Deliberate Practice, and a 1993 scientific paper that comes up first when you Google "Deliberate Practice." There is an awesome Charlie Rose episode (12/19/08) on the subject that was half Malcolm Gladwell (http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9855) and half another guy name Geoff Colvin who wrote a book called "Talent Is Overrated" (http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9856).
Scientists have now conducted many studies and concluded that in-born talent is, at best, a VERY small component in excellent (expert) performance and all top performers in any field are those who engaged in a special kind of "effortful activities designed to optimize improvement" called Deliberate Practice for approximately 10,000 hours over the course of 10 years. The scientists and these books argue that it is this Deliberate Practice which separates the best performers from the rest, not in-born gifts. They emphasize that years-of-service is not a differentiator in excellent performance, so lots of experience is not enough to make a great performer (i.e. expert). Deliberate Practice ("activities designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual's performance") appears to simply involve a disciplined cycling endlessly through (1.) performance, (2.) analysis of the performance, and (3.) modification of performance with the explicit intention of improving. Important note: marathon practice sessions don’t help. Ideal session durations are often an hour or less.
Why do I care? I am trying to continuously improve my performance on several fronts: Business Executive, Manager (person-to-person), Father, Athlete, Musician, Teacher, in Personal Finance, etc... I think I can use this research to better design my "Deliberate Practice" to improve my performance in all these roles, as well as in design of teaching systems for my business.
Putting this to work: Maximize the time we spend teaching or learning by using Deliberate Practice. Use the PFCS Strategy for Training: (1.) Tell them what the task is and why it is important. (2.) Show them how to do the task, modeling exactly what the trainee will be doing. (3.) Practice: Allow the Trainee to perform the task with direct supervision and re-direction during practice. (4.) Do with Feedback: Have the Trainee perform the task independently, then receive feedback and re-direction immediately following the performance. (5.) Do with Follow-Up: Have the Trainee perform the task independently, then receive feedback and re-direction at some scheduled future date. (6.) Repeat as necessary. (7.) Mentor: Have the Trainee become a training mentor for others.