Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin. Portfolio, 2008.
Where does talent come from? Nature or nurture? A study of music students found no difference in starting point, but that practice made the difference. "A few [researchers] contend that the very existence of talent is not, as they carefully put it, supported by evidence."
The key is deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is designed to improve performance, by repetition, with feedback, working in "the learning zone." Your goal is to deepen your domain knowledge.
This book is one of the ones that popularizes the meme of "talent comes from 10,000 hours of deliberate practice." For those of us who are aging, the news is mixed: it takes longer to learn, but excellent performers needn't decline in their area of expertise. (That argues for developing varied expertise, I guess.)
Finally, if practice is key, what keeps us practicing? We have to develop intrinsic motivation. The work can help us overcome our supposed limitations.
This book was a very readable introduction, and made a compelling case. I'll close with a quote: "The price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high… what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking liberating news: that great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and everyone."
Instructional Design Strategies and Tactics, Cynthia B. Leshin, Joellyn Pollock, Charles M. Reigeluth. Educational Technology Publications, 1992.
Certain instructional patterns are worth repeating. These authors use a very structured approach to instruction, complete with job aids to support it. As a process, I find it confining; but as a source of ideas, I find it helpful. The best thing in here is the notion that you’re better off teaching someone to be an expert in something from the very beginning, even if it’s only on a subset of what’s required. (I can’t help relate this to test-driven development.) (Reviewed April, ’06)
Creative Training Techniques Handbook, Robert W. Pike, Human Resource Development Press, 2003.
This is a wide-ranging book on training. It reads like a brain-dump, with lots of nuggets from an experienced trainer. (That’s both an advantage and a disadvantage.) I particularly like the AIDA framework (“Attention, Interest, Desire, Action”), the focus on “Instructor-Led, Participant-Centered Training,” and the ADA pattern (“Activity, Discussion, Application”). (Reviewed Sept., 2005 [2/e])
Developing Technical Training: A Structured Approach for the Development of Classroom and Computer-Based Instructional Materials, Ruth Colvin Clark. Addison Wesley, 1989.
Clark provides a framework for thinking about content and performance. On one dimension is “Apply vs. Remember”; on the other are “Facts, Concepts, Processes, Procedures, and Principles.” For each cell, she suggests an approach for how to teach that type of material. For example, for concepts you might show examples and non-examples; you might practice with a classification exercise, and test with a classification test on different items. The emphasis is on applying learning in realistic conditions as much as possible. I didn’t find the computer part particularly helpful, but the general training material seemed like good advice. (Reviewed Oct., 2004)
Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Learning is a social activity, not a pouring of knowledge from one person to another. The thesis of this book is that when people want to learn something new, they need to be legitimate peripheral participants. Their efforts need to be accepted as valid (not make-work); they can’t do the central part; they need to participate in an environment where they can learn from others. This is all tied to the notion of there being a community of practice in which they can participate and grow. They back their analysis up with several case studies of more and less successful apprenticeship. I think the concepts they’re advocating are important; read this book if you want deeper background. (Reviewed Feb., ’04)
Digital Game-Based Learning, Marc Prensky, McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Prensky argues that the new generation of learners has a new way of learning from exposure to MTV and video games, but teaching hasn’t kept up. He describes aspects of games and how they can help learning, and reviews a number of games that companies have developed and used. I see potential, but a big gap: the most exciting of these games are horribly expensive to produce, and many of the case studies end, “the champion moved on and this game died out.” (Reviewed Nov., ’03)
Training Games: Everything You Need to Know About Using Games to Reinforce Learning, Susan El-Shamy. Stylus Publishing, 2001.
Describes some theory indicating how games help learning, classifies games a few ways, and considers electronic games. Considers the mechanics of playing and debriefing games. Looks at a few particular games and assesses how they might be used. Finally, suggests ideas for creating your own games. (Reviewed Dec., ’02)