Practicing, Not YouTubing, Makes Perfect

This post may seem a bit odd coming just one day after I wrote about the controversy surrounding behavioral economist, Dan Ariely.

While I personally don’t think it looks good for Dan, I’m hoping it’s an isolated incident and it doesn’t negate all the other research he has done. Plus, people are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

What this means is that I will continue to share and comment on Dan’s biweekly advice column in the Wall Street Journal.

Here is an interesting letter he received this week:

Dear Dan,

My teenage daughter spends a lot of time watching dance videos on Tik-Tok. Last weekend we were at a fair, and she saw a group of teenagers doing a dance she had watched hundreds of times on her phone. She excitedly ran over to join them and told me to take a video, but right away she stumbled, stopped dancing, and insisted I delete the video from my phone. How did she go from being so excited about dancing to feeling so frustrated? —Joelle

And here is Dan’s response:

After watching the same dance routine so many times, your daughter had a lot of confidence in her ability to replicate it. It’s the same feeling of “I could totally do that” that people often have after watching cooking or home improvement shows on TV. But it’s a mistake to think that watching someone else doing something is the same as actually learning a skill.

In a 2018 study, participants were asked to watch a video of a person playing darts and then to rate their confidence in their own ability to play the game. People who watched the video 20 times felt more confident about their darts skill compared with those who watched it only once. But when the participants actually played darts, there was no relationship between how many times someone watched the video and their performance. Similar results were found in studies looking at juggling, moonwalking, and performing magic tricks.

The lesson for your daughter is clear: If she wants to learn a dance, there’s no substitute for practicing.

This one seems kind of obvious.

While watching a video may provide some useful insight on how to do something, it’s no substitute for doing the real thing.

Ariely mentions juggling, and I have direct experience with this. If I am going to try and learn a new trick, watching a video of it, most likely several times, will be my starting point. But then when I try it myself, the odds of doing it correctly the first time, or even the fiftieth time, are quite slim. I know that it is going to take practice, and lots of it. And probably watching the video a few more times.

I also try and impress this upon my students, particularly when I try to teach Accounting. We often provide the students with the solutions to homework assignments after it is due. When it is then time to study for a test, we tell the students to try the homework again, but to not look at the solution until after they have given the homework a fair try. The danger is that they simply look at the solution, perhaps even over and over, and they think they know how to do the problem; it is not an effective learning strategy. When you just look at the solution without trying it yourself, you don’t know where the potential challenges might be.

Watching a video or just looking at a solution is too passive an approach; learning needs to be active, whether it is for accounting, juggling, or dancing.

But going back to the letter from Joelle shown above. I do have to admire her daughter for running out into the crowd and wanting to join in on the dance. That is something I would never, ever do. I think she has a bright future…

64 thoughts on “Practicing, Not YouTubing, Makes Perfect

  1. Interesting, and my first thought was also “good for her for trying”. This is probably a bit more complex than this. Some tasks are probably easier if you can watch how they are done than if you had no previous exposure, but I agree that practice will make you better at many things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that watching a video may be the best way to first see how something is done, but then after that, it’s lots of practice. and perhaps some more watching of the video…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t help but wonder, what if Dan faked that 2018 study and it really is possible to get good at something by watching a video? I’m thinking of watching a video on how to rebuild my car’s transmission.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Thee is no way around it for Dan. If the accusations are proven true, it will call every study and theory he has ever offered into question. Honesty seems to be an all or nothing deal. But I agree that practice, the repetition that leads to sound techniques and muscle memory, does not come from being a spectator. Although, I salute the young lady for getting out there and giving it a go. I wish I was that bold!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. If you want to dance your feet won’t stay still when that music’s playing. How can anyone watch a video of music that moves them to dance and not move their feet along with it?
    If it’s choreography she’s after, that’s brain exercise. It takes a while longer for your body parts to remember the moves (think of piano practice).

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I used to belong to a Scottish Country Dancing group. Not for the exercise (although it did get me off the sofa for the evening) but because it made me concentrate on the preliminary walk-through and try to keep the steps in order. (I never did memorise a reel from one week to another, so couldn’t join one of the groups that didn’t have a walk-through before dancing.)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. If the daughter was already a very good dancer, just watching a video several might be enough to allow her to replicate the moves. But I guess that is not learning a new skill. The conclusion about requiring practice seems pretty obvious. That is unless you are Allen Iverson. But Ted Lasso gets it:


    Liked by 3 people

    1. My friends and I enjoy imitating this clip. In fact, my wife has heard me do this routine enough times that she knows it, even though she has no idea who Allen Iverson is. Our other favorite is the one where football coach Jim Mora raises his voice about five octaves and says, “Playoffs?” to the reporter as if it was completely absurd to suggest that.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. the Iverson clip is such a classic, and I also repeat that Jim Mora line.

        I’ve never seen the Ted Lasso comparison. It’s eerie how close they are too each other. It seems like the writers on Ted Lasso clearly copied the idea from Iverson…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Its true that practice is better than watching but there are also some things that no matter how much you practice, will never be perfect!
    I have made countless meals over tbe years but I am still not a gourmet chef!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I believe in practice, and few things are more satisfying than mastering something that took many trials to learn. On the other hand, there are things I watch other people do (downhill skiing comes to mind), and I think, “No way!”

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  8. When I was studying, I did loads of practice papers, Jim, that was exactly how I learned. There are some great things you can learn from YT though. I’ve watched a number of videos on how to make various fondant art figures and they have been very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, but for good old accounting, practice makes perfect. And, I already know how to make fondant figures. I learned how to from a book and a lot of practice. I think you have to learn the basics through practice and then YT videos help you to expand your knowledge and learning.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree. And I try to impress that o my students that they are not going to learn accounting by reading a book. But even with accounting, sometimes a video can help explain something, and you can rewind it to your heart’s content…


  9. I guess everyone learns (and remembers?) differently. I agree with most of the comments and your suggestion to your students. I think that’s called muscle memory? I know I always said that if I wanted to learn or remember something like from a class or a book the best way to do that was to take notes because that way it at least had to go through my brain to come out of my hand! I kind of still do that. I have not found another way that works as well for me. These days, though, I have trouble deciphering my notes more often than I did when I was younger.

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