New instructional designs combine learning and practice – perfect!

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“Budget one hour of rehearsal for every minute of stage time.”

Aaron Frankel, Writing the Broadway Musical

By rough calculation, based on author Aaron Frankel’s recommendation, an average Broadway musical would require approximately 15 days of rehearsal. This doesn’t include memorizing lines or meetings with cast and directors – just time on stage performing. It holds true in other areas, too: former NBA great Michael Jordan would make hundreds of jump shots before a game and professional golfer Vijay Singh has admitted he would take thousands of practice drives before teeing off at an Open.

But does practice really make perfect? Research in neuroplasticity and how practice can have a structural change on our brain tells us more about the benefits of practice. Our brains “change” with practice. There are three types of changes that can occur in our brain; chemical, structural and functional. The initial change, sometimes referred to as “chemical fireworks,” happens rapidly. Think of learning something new…how exciting! Here’s the caveat, these chemical fireworks are just like real fireworks, they fade, and rather quickly. Practising once isn’t enough. When we repeat an action several times, our brain’s structure begins to change. This is precisely the type of change we look for when we want to change behaviour. And it doesn’t take as much time as we think for our brain to reshape itself. Neuroscientists from McGill University studied the impact of overusing GPS technology on our brains and found that the part of our brain known as the hippocampus – where navigation skills are performed – can shrink within weeks after we leave it to technology to tell us where we’re going.

The adage “use it or lose it” isn’t just cliché, it has some neuroscience behind it after all. Learning and applying skills are all based on brain activity and succumb to the same rules of nature; whatever we do most, whatever we focus on, we will become better at doing.

So, how does practice work in business? At a glance, it seems to only show up early in one’s career or during orientation training. Sadly, more training does not equal more practice. No matter how engaging a session might be, it can fall short on practice. Workshops can have exercises. They may have fun, engaging activities. They may even be experiential, but real hands-on practice – the act of immersing yourself in an activity and repeating it to get behaviour change requires a different instructional design.

Executive Education programs that tackle practice head-on implement experiential activities and practice simultaneously. And it has become easier to do today as more tools that enhance the experience are now readily available. Virtual reality, simulations and video-based role playing are flexing their muscles in the virtual and live classroom. Tools are in supply, but demand is also on the rise. The demand for practising behaviours in-the-moment has risen. There is a real appetite for practicing critical behaviours in social and private settings as more and more leaders recognize the value in practice and value in changing their brains.

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The Schulich Executive Education Centre works with organizations to create cutting-edge training that prepares employees to engage and succeed in their careers. SEEC has a complete range of flexible corporate training programs designed to meet the variety of needs of the organizations we serve. Contact our Custom Team today for information on how they can analyze your training needs and design programs around your unique needs.

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