Tip 5: Encoding Specificity Principle
February 7, 2009 by Dr. Ken Tangen
Learning works best when the study conditions and the recall conditions match. You know from your own experience that practice sessions are different than performances. Playing the guitar in your bedroom isn’t the same as playing it on stage. Singing in a choir doesn’t prepare you for performing a solo. Playing football in the backyard is not the same as playing it in a gigantic stadium.
We are very context sensitive. So we perform best when we learn under similar conditions. If you have to perform under stress, you want to train under stress. If you want to perform alone, you should train alone. If you want to work as a team, you have to practice as a team.
Technically, this is called the encoding specificity principle. Encode the information under the same conditions you want to decode it. Make your practice sessions as similar as possible to your performance environment. For plays and concerts, do lots of dress rehearsals. If you’re a coach, play a lot of exhibition games. If you’re taking a test in a quiet environment, study in a quiet environment.