THE BLOG
10/01/2013 05:23 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Value of Deliberate Practice in Online Learning

I remember when I took my first MOOC 2 years ago.

Get your head out of the gutter -- that's short for Massive Open Online Course -- a new breed of (mostly) free online education platforms that allows anybody with an internet connection to learn just about anything from anywhere.

The gatekeepers to a world-class education have officially fallen.

For me, these online platforms are a huge win. Like many of my twenty-something peers, I'm in that weird post-undergraduate space where I know that going back to school isn't the best choice for me...but I also know that I'm not done learning.

In the past, online learning and other methods of home study have had massive limitations.

Until recently, much of online learning has focused on passive consumption of information via articles and videos.

But it takes more than information to learn a new skill or grasp a difficult concept. It takes deliberate practice.

What is deliberate practice? In a nutshell, it's the dedicated, incremental improvement of a skill over a period of many years -- or from Malcolm Gladwell's perspective in his book Outliers -- 10,000 hours.

Psychology Today points out that deliberate practice of specific skill sets over an extended period is one of the most effective ways to become an expert.

So where does this leave the traditional route of information consumption and regurgitation as a method for learning?

In the dust.

Over the past 3 years, a new wave of online education start-ups and MOOCs has grown in large part due to a specific focus on integrated, deliberate practice as a core part of the curriculum. Rather than merely rehashing recorded lectures, these new online platforms typically include:

  • Classes taught by highly knowledgeable instructors -- and access to the instructors outside of class
  • Example files so students can see the theories in action rather than just memorize data
  • Interactive challenges students must complete that help them retain and apply concepts

More impressive than the revolutionary access to this information is what students are doing with it -- in some cases, learning skills so well that they go on to build businesses or get jobs in their respective fields.

Here's a list of a few online education platforms that feature deliberate practice as core teaching methodologies:

Team Treehouse - An online portal that provides detailed courses for new developers including videos, code challenges, quizzes and downloadable files.

The Starter League - An in-person school based in Chicago that teaches hands-on web development through deliberate practice.

Playbook - A project-based learning company for entrepreneurs that teaches students about entrepreneurship by actually helping them build assets for their business.

Skillshare - Offers a wide variety of classes from screenwriting to logo design. Classes are project based and can be completed at your own pace.

Khan Academy - A non-profit that provides free courses to everyone. Courses focus on standard academic subjects including: math, science, computer science and humanities. Students have access to a large video library, interactive challenges and assessments.

Your turn:

Have you taken an online course that featured deliberate practice as a core teaching methodology?

What different MOOCs or online education platforms would you recommend?

Daniel DiPiazza is the Founder of Rich20Something, where he teaches young people how to stop doing jobs they hate and break into entrepreneurship.