How to become an expert animal scanner

I recently listened to a Podcast interview with Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist who studies how humans become experts. He looks at masters of everything, from professional athletes through to grand master chess champions and world-leading scientists. In this particular interview, he discusses his 2016 book, ‘Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise’ and the topic of deliberate practice. Optimal methods for training and practice interest me because I spend a significant amount of my time learning and teaching. Anything that can accelerate my own progress or that of my students is certainly worth my attention.

Deliberate practice means performing a task with an end result in mind – usually, the goal of improving some aspect of it. It is very possible to practice something without engaging in deliberate practice, and I’ve observed this in my own hobbies. I play the violin, and on days when I get home late and I’m tired, I sometimes notice myself ‘going through the motions’ – playing without real involvement or enjoyment, simply to say I’ve practiced that evening. If I’m honest with myself, this is almost a total waste of time. I might play through the entire piece several times, but I am not engaged with what I am doing.

Yet, if I instead devote my time just to practicing what may amount to only 10 seconds of music, consistently checking myself against the professionals (usually on YouTube), I can achieve a measurable improvement in that one practice session. In fact, I can achieve more in 5 minutes playing two bars like that than I can spending 20 minutes playing the whole piece over and over.

 

Above: Sound experiment at Chislehurst Caves in February 2018. Lower frequency sound penetrates further into the cave than higher frequency.

 

So is that what deliberate practice is? Greater focus and engagement? Almost certainly this is a big factor. But, according to Ericsson, this is not the only or even the main reason why this time is so much more productive. So what is it? What is the greatest accelerator of learning?

 

The Fastest Way To Improve

I actually touched on this ‘magic ingredient’ in the new book ‘Ultrasound for Canine Pregnancy Scanning’, before I’d heard about the work of Anders Ericsson, when I discussed the importance of saving your work and uploading it on sites like this one or within online communities. This magic ingredient is feedback. With violin practice, I’m comparing myself to the professionals playing the same few notes that I am, straight after I play them. This is particularly beneficial because the smaller the gap in time between you practicing a particular skill and receiving that feedback, the better. That’s why having a teacher by your side is so advantageous (and why even the best musicians in the world – often teachers themselves – still visit a music teacher), and why today’s technology can be harnessed to accelerate learning so effectively. Even something as simple as a Facebook group can accelerate your progress, if you are willing to share your images and be receptive to people’s comments and suggestions. Making yourself a checklist of image optimisation controls and asking yourself “how’s my depth? Where’s my focal point? What’s my frequency?” is a great starting point, and if you complete that process by comparing your images side-by-side to images in a book or online, you have all the ingredients for success at your fingertips.

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