The practice itself will not help you achieve perfection in what you do; the point is to choose the right learning strategy. This is what a team of psychologists claim after having analyzed data from about 850 000 people who were playing the same game online.

The main conclusion of the study, which was recently published in the journal Psychological Science, states that if you want to quickly learn something, you should find the optimal strategy for the task before you start practicing.

Tom Stafford of the University of Sheffield, UK, and Michael Dewar of the R&D lab of The New York Times analyzed the results of 854 064 people in the online game “Axon“.

Players had to grow “neurons” by clicking on potential targets. Simultaneously, the participants’ ability to learn, decision making, and reaction speed was monitored.

The researchers’ goal was to find out to what extent the practice contributes to increasing the performance of players. The team paid particular attention to the “champions” who had reached the highest results for the same period of time as the rest of the game participants.

It turned out that the most successful players had chosen one of two strategies: they either completely immersed in the game, relying entirely on intuition, or spent some time on testing the game in the beginning in order to find out all the possibilities thoroughly, thus obtaining complete information.

“Our research shows that we can significantly speed up the learning process, choosing the right strategy: while someone may need to immerse themselves in the process from the beginning, someone else should first master the theory”, explains Stafford.

“The life of a modern human is inextricably linked with learning new technologies and complex skills. Optimization of the learning process is one of the highest priorities of science.”

This makes sense because there are different types of learners. Some people learn better by reading, others – by actively engaging in an activity. When you tend to rely on abstract thinking, practicing what you learn comes only after you have thoughtfully studied the topic in theory first.

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