Have you ever heard of the idiom ‘practice makes perfect’? I’m pretty sure someone has said that to you at least once in your life! It’s a common saying, often used to encourage someone when they’re learning or doing something that is new to them.
They may need many tries before succeeding and getting it right. It’s like beginning to ride a bicycle, learning how to drive, taking up a second language, or cooking for the first time. It’s rare for someone to ace it on their first try.
Whenever you want to start learning something new, I’m sure you’re always hoping to get good at it quickly. But the reality is that sometimes it does take days, months or even years before you can confidently master a skill.
That’s simply how learning works. You try, you gain experience, you learn from it, and you try again. And each time, you’re improving and making progress. Everytime you repeat this learning process, you’re going through something called a Feedback Loop.
What separates a fast learner from a slower learner, is not some innate, natural talent. Instead, it’s because they understand how they learn, and have a systematic way to apply it all the time to learn a variety of things. They know how to effectively use their Feedback Loop to speed up the learning process.
So if you’re currently wanting to learn a new skill as quickly as possible, then you’re first going to need to learn how to create an effective Feedback Loop.
The Feedback Loop
Feedback means getting information about how well you’re performing each time you make an attempt at practicing or applying a skill. Feedback is what tells you what went wrong, or what went right.
A feedback loop is made up of 3 stages:
- Practice / Apply – This is the stage where you put what you want to learn into action.
- Measure – This is the stage where you’re acquiring information about your performance. This is also the stage that is most ignored… or done ineffectively.
- Learn – This is the stage where you analyze how well you performed, and make adjustments to improve and practice/apply again.
It is important to recognize these 3 stages and put them into place each time you practice a new skill.
Many people only have Stage 1 completed, and a very unclear or fuzzy process for Stage 2, which leads to poor results in Stage 3.
A good, smooth cycle will help you continuously make improvements with each loop, creating steady progress and upgrading your understanding of the skill.
How to Have an Effective Feedback Loop
To make sure your Feedback Loop is effective, you will have to look at 3 key factors: Consistency, Speed, and Accuracy.
Being consistent means having a regular way to get the same quality of feedback. You need to be able to compare every practice or learning experience in order to measure, learn and make adjustments. If your feedback is not consistent, then you’re going to have a hard time knowing what went wrong or what went right.
For example, say you’re learning to play the guitar. If you play a different song every time you practice, you’re going to get very inconsistent feedback. Because the difficulty, rhythm, and pace of every song is different, you won’t have a reliable way to compare how well you played the current song versus the last. So, the best way to learn would be to play the same song over and over again until you get to a certain proficiency.
Seems obvious in this case, but it’s just an example. A lot of times learning is hard because we don’t focus on keeping with a consistent environment or actions.
Let’s move on to the second factor: speed. Having speedy or fast feedback is important because the longer it takes to get feedback, the longer it will take to improve on the skill. That’s why some people spend a tremendous amount of time practicing, but make very slow progress.
On the other hand, the best forms of feedback are almost instantaneous. The shorter the time it takes for one Feedback Loop to complete, the better. This is because you’ll have more attempts, which means more improvements within the same timespan.
How to get fast feedback
So the key to getting fast feedback is to take the skill or knowledge and break it down. Try to breakdown the skill into different components. They could be broken down into steps, subskills or processes, or even by difficulty.
For example, if the skill you want to learn involves a sequence (ie: there is a step by step process), you can break your learning down by each step. Create a Feedback Loop for each step individually instead of the whole process. Isolate the processes into different parts that you can focus and work on individually.
Let’s say you’re learning to cook. You can break this skill into steps, such as finding fresh and suitable ingredients, preparing and handling the ingredients, preparing condiments and sauces, serving and plating, etc.
Or let’s say you’d like to learn how to play soccer. You can identify the sub-skills that make up the larger learning techniques to playing soccer, and create feedback loops for each of them individually. So you could start by learning how to dribble the ball, followed by passing, and then shooting.
The third and final factor to an effective Feedback Loop, is accuracy. This means having feedback that actually reflects your performance accurately. Since you’re relying on feedback to tell you what and where to improve next time, this is very important. This is why measuring feedback is a key skill to have for an effective Feedback Loop.
How to Measure Feedback
Obtaining accuracy in feedback is a common weak point for many learners, because it’s not always easy to define what “accurate” means.
To get accurate feedback, we have to have a way of measuring it. The reason why we sometimes get poor feedback is because we’re trying to measure our progress without quantifying our performance. Or, we’re using the wrong metrics to quantify the feedback. Worse yet, it might just be that you were never measuring or recording your performance at all.
In order to find areas for improvement, you have to be able to compare your current performance with your previous performance.
Quantifying something means attaching a number to it. This helps to give objectivity and consistency when comparing two things. Quantifying feedback can give you constructive information that will help you improve during each cycle of the feedback loop.
Continuously Improve Your Feedback Loop!
Are you ready to put your feedback loop into practice? What’s a new skill that you’d like to start on?
Try implementing every stage of the Feedback Loop when learning this new skill and see for yourself whether your learning improves at a quicker rate.
It is essential to continuously improve your Feedback Loop in order to keep up your momentum, and avoid running into the law of diminishing returns. Improving your Feedback Loop means knowing what to measure next, and what questions to ask to find out.
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Featured photo credit: JeShoots via unsplash.com