Tara Maroney
Global Learning Initiatives 
University of Bridgeport
[email protected]

Advisors hate the words, “I can’t” coming from an advisee’s mouth. Beyond our own innate optimism, there is now research to prove that a student can, in fact, learn and succeed. The idea that with proper training and motivation, anyone can become an expert in their chosen field is the premise behind Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool (2016).

The steps to becoming an expert are defined as “deliberate practice” (p. 9) which requires creating well-defined, specific goals; being focused; receiving feedback; getting out of the comfort zone and staying motivated (p. 22). Add to that time, and it is the gold standard of effective learning. The examples of its success range from taxi drivers to chess grandmasters. Beyond just practicing often, the theme that permeates the book is that the type of practice you engage in will drastically impact your success. In short, there are no shortcuts in becoming an expert. In fact, the authors argue natural talent is nothing more than a highly motivated individual who has perfected some form of deliberate practice.

It may be conceivable that you could learn a new language or new skill, but it is tougher to imagine that professional athletes could emerge after learning the sport later in life. To that end, the authors note that physical performance peaks around age 20 but that improvements can be made in athleticism, just like any other area (p. 194). The claim that genetics plays a part in success is acknowledged, but more for its role in motivating someone to work hard than for the physical attributes that people traditionally think lead to success.

While learning a skill is possible at any age, the book doesn’t discuss how to overcome lack of motivation, which a student who “can’t” may also face. Another shortfall of deliberate practice is sell-fulfilling prophecy. That same student who believes he or she cannot succeed may be right, but only because he or she may be too discouraged to truly study in an effective manner (p. 242).

Peak is not written specifically for advisors, or for higher education, but there are a few implications for the field. One of the most interesting examples of deliberate practice was an experiment in an introductory physics course at the University of British Columbia. Professors used one section of the course to incorporate elements of deliberate practice by making students active participants and providing instant feedback (p. 243-244). Those students faired significantly better on standard exams than those in the control group who learned in a traditional lecture (p. 246-247).

To help students succeed, advisors could incorporate the principles of deliberate practice into their day-to-day interactions. Providing valuable study tips or providing feedback to help students learn. Deliberate practice lends itself nicely to the idea of advising as teaching (Crookston 1972). Like the University of British Columbia example, student outcomes can improve with clear goals, proper feedback, focus and motivation, all things advisors can provide.

The wide range of expertise that can be learned through deliberate practice lead the authors to note, “Deliberate practice is for everyone who dreams” (p. 146). As advisors, it is nice to think that with proper motivation a student can learn more effectively. As a professional, it’s nice to think that, regardless of our age, we can still master new tricks.


Crookston, B.B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13, 12-17.

Peak. (2016). Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 336 pp., $28.00, (Paperback), ISBN #978-0-544-45623-5, http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/Peak/9780544456235.

Posted in: Issue 36(2)
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