5 takeaways: Anders Ericsson on Deliberate Practice

By Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

Recently, Renaissance had the pleasure of hosting a webinar with Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, the world’s leading authority on expertise. Numerous attendees asked great questions about the implications of Ericsson’s work, with many noting profound takeaways at the end. Given the lively dialogue, we wanted to continue this conversation and highlight the webinar for others.

Ericsson has referred to the deliberate practice undertaken by experts as “the most powerful approach to improving performance that has yet been discovered,” and after more than 30 years of study and observing the development of expertise, he and others are now beginning to apply their findings to teaching (Ericsson and Pool, 2016). I would like to highlight several major takeaways from the event, including the following:

1. Human potential often far exceeds what we might anticipate.

Can you imagine memorizing over 200 digits read to you at a rate of one per second? People have. The record for consecutive push-ups had to be revised because people developed the ability to continue doing push-ups beyond their ability to go without drinking water or using the bathroom, so now the challenge is “How many push-ups can you do in a 24-hour period?” (The record is north of 45,000!) Chess champion Alekhine played 30 concurrent sessions of “blind chess” (where players don’t see the board but their opponents’ moves are described to them) and won against nearly every opponent. The takeaway is that with the proper training, humans can do things that sometimes seem unimaginable.

2. Deliberate practice most often bears little resemblance to what most of us do when we practice.

The focused, deliberate practice of experts is often so exhausting that sessions beyond 20 minutes are not possible. When the challenge aspect of deliberate practice is discussed, many connect it with Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD), but when discussions of ZPD are considered alongside ones of deliberate practice, there is a feeling that deliberate practice is on the extreme upper ends of ZPD and that the most successful individuals are more willing to continually engage in daunting activities than many of us are.

3. Teachers are critical.

Ericsson and Pool (2016) noted that “no student, no matter how motivated, can expect to figure out [the intricacies of a domain] on his or her own.”

4. Feedback is critical.

Feedback is not only necessary to guide improvement and refinement but also critical for motivation. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) asserted that deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable in and of itself. They noted that with feedback, “individuals are motivated to practice because practice improves performance.” If you can’t see yourself improving, you won’t be motivated to continue to work and improve.

5. Finally, one of the last steps is where students take ownership of their learning.

This was the subject of many questions, and while we as educators seem to struggle with how to make this happen, we do know that providing role models and visions of future selves is critical as is having students set goals and actively track their progress.

This conversation on applying the findings from the “science of expertise” is just beginning, but there are already insights on and implications for K-12 education. Join the discussion by viewing the intriguing webinar.


Ericsson, K. A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer
Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer
Gene Kerns, EdD, is a third-generation educator with teaching experience from elementary through the university level, in addition to his K–12 administrative experience. As Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance, Dr. Kerns advises educators in both the US and the UK about academic trends and opportunities. Previously, he served as the Supervisor of Academic Services for the Milford School District in Milford, Delaware. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Longwood College in Virginia and a doctor of education degree from the University of Delaware. His first publication, Informative Assessment: When It’s Not About a Grade, focused on using routine, reflective, and rigorous informative assessments to inform and improve teaching practices and student learning.


  1. Dvawn Maza says:

    All of these are interesting points, but to me the first one was very interesting. I think that it would be beneficial to look up some of these amazing feats that human bodies have done, and show to my students that they can do what they set their minds to doing.

    • Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Gene Kerns, Ed.D., Vice President and Chief Academic Officer says:

      I love that idea, Dvawn. Let us know how it goes!

  2. Evelyn Araiza says:

    I felt I learned so much by reading these points. The one that interested me the most was the last one, students should want to learn on their own, not because we are making them. We want them to be excited as they see their own progress!

    • Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Gene Kerns, Ed.D., Vice President and Chief Academic Officer says:

      I’m happy to hear that, Evelyn. Thank you for reading!

    • Carolina Castillo says:

      It is so true that the students have to want to learn. It is especially true when they see their progress. I love to see how they react and want to strive for more.

  3. Julissa says:

    Wonderful read and the seminar is atch worthy!

    • Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Gene Kerns, Ed.D., Vice President and Chief Academic Officer says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Julissa. What was your favorite thing about the webinar?

  4. P R says:

    I like Comment #4. Feedback is always needed. Students need to know that the teacher is aware of what they (the students) are doing. Students also need to be given feedback that allows them to branch out on their thoughts and processing in working out an equation or word problem.

  5. Roxann Hauser says:

    My main takeaway was the confirmation that reading to my Kinders one on one can be very effective. Small groups seem to be highly encouraged, but I find that one on one interactions can be quite time consuming, but so beneficial.

    • Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Gene Kerns, Ed.D., Vice President and Chief Academic Officer says:

      Indeed, Roxann. One-on-one interactions are tremendous opportunities to connect with students.

  6. Andrea says:

    Great article! The final point was very important…….students taking ownership of their learning.

  7. Chimere McRae says:

    I definitely agree that students should take more ownership of their learning. We have to explain to them the importance of their education so they know what they’re being responsible for. Providing feedback is essential to that.

  8. Narda Lugo says:

    Teacher working collaboratively with each other will equal student success.

  9. Meredith Sanders says:

    Great points! I think it is important to teach students to take ownership of their learning, set goals, and strive to reach the goals!

  10. Renee Graham says:

    I plan on sharing #2 with parents!

  11. Sarah Swanzy says:

    Great reminders for teachers.

  12. Braley Speagle says:

    I love the final point…students who own their data, own their learning. This is critical for continued student success.

  13. Belinda says:

    I like the fact that all students can read at their own level. The data reveals how each one of them does individually.

  14. ERCarlisi says:

    Cool insights! I knew we could increase mentally…..I guess I didn’t realize the physical could be increased to that extent! (45000?? WOW) I continually motivate my students. I have a poster which I update daily. (Class average of minutes/class % on quizzes/# of student who have achieved the 85% goal.) The push for CLASS GOALS….and then devote time to those students who still need to REACH the 85% or help the class minutes! That can only happen when #5–ownership–is achieved!

    • Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Gene Kerns, Ed.D., Vice President and Chief Academic Officer says:

      That is great to hear, ERCarlisi. Keep encouraging your students and pushing them to be the best they can be!

  15. David Keech says:

    There are two points I find most interesting from the webinar. The first is reading that the most successful people are those that can continually engage in daunting activities that others. This is important for us as teachers, setting up conditions for learning so that students have to sustain effort and work hard. Perseverance is valuable trait. I tell students that life, work, and hard are all four letter words, for a reason, that they are intertwined. Also, I thought it was valuable to see the importance placed on feedback. Teachers providing feedback to students helps shape learning.

    • Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Gene Kerns, Ed.D., Vice President and Chief Academic Officer says:

      I could not agree more, David. Perseverance is important in just about every aspect of life and feedback is crucial, both in and out of the classroom.

  16. Fatima Peters says:

    Loved this webinar! I took lots of great notes, now I need to apply the lessons learned!

  17. Kelly Posey says:

    I think feedback is so important for students. The one-to-one feedback gives the most returns but of course that is the hardest to do because of time constraints.

  18. Kelsie says:

    This had some very interesting points. I have been working on encouraging my students to take ownership of their own learning, it will always be a work in progress.