Developing Human Capital: Success and Failure in Learning


Psychologists in the past have conceptualized talent as an IQ-like cognitive ability [1], and practice focused on the view of human achievements to be limited by innate characteristics [2]. Human cognitive processing is indeed universally depending on sensory abilities, often biased and unaware of its own mechanisms, and limited to a relatively bounded range of working memory capacity [3]. However, these innate factors are not directly encoding skills, but the development of human expertise rather relies on whether or not and how experience and training are happening [4].

Deliberate practice

Ericsson, Prietula, and Cokely (2007) [5] describe “deliberate practice” [6], which is the direction of efforts towards learning something that can’t be done well yet as compared to an already familiar task. Deliberate thinking develops the concentration and accepting consideration of even painful feedback (people tend to over-estimate their skills and performance) to practice new things that are, therefore, more challenging to approach [5]. Learning outside of one’s comfort zone has been found favorable for reaping the benefits from brain plasticity allowing for ongoing cognitive health even in older age [7].

Cognitive skills

The development of cognitive abilities needs practice because it is, for example, relying on stored contextual information for improved anticipation and decision-making [8]. The so-called psychological support skills are more domain-general, can respectively have to be learned too though, improve motivation, attention, and anxiety, and comprise of mental abilities such as imagery, self-talk, relaxation skills, goals setting, and organizing [9]. Also, spatial abilities have been found supportive of developing expertise in science, technology, and engineering education [10].

Self-efficacy and motivation

Performance achievement requires self-confidence in one’s ability to learn. For any learning, it is vital to develop this life-skill of self-efficacy [11]. Self-efficacy helps develop a stronger sense of hope and purpose of life [12]. The attribution of failure to controllable factors (such as one’s development of abilities) causes individuals to think more positively, being more motivated and perseverant, and perform more successfully [13]. While available to all, proactive personalities might access self-efficacy more easily though [14]. The so-called Deep Layer Learning Motivation (i.e., the interest in internal motivation, as opposed to external motivators) is positively related to learning performance and self-efficacy [15]. All this taken together, the possibility of creating an upward spiral for developing human capital exists through the mutually reinforcing effects of positive self-belief, intrinsic motivation, and successful learning achievement.

Creating a supportive environment

How a student, including the gifted [16], perceives the supportiveness of his/her learning environment, e.g., colleagues, family, and teachers, influences the motivation for self-directed engagement [17]. This demonstrates the importance of a practice-friendly design of learning environments [18]. The Triarchic Model of Grit has been evaluated a valid and reliable tool for measuring talent development self-efficacy and has recently added the dimension of ‘adaptability to situations’ to the already established dimensions of ‘perseverance of effort’ and ‘consistency of interests’ [19]. This could be especially useful to assess a conception of talent (respectively ability) that is seen as a more multi-dimensional function of person-environment interactions ensuring that educational policies and programs are consequently designed and promoted as opportunities for all [20].


[1] Shore, B. M. (2010). Giftedness Is Not What It Used to Be, School Is Not What It Used to Be, Their Future, and Why Psychologists in Education Should Care. Canadian Journal Of School Psychology, 25(2), 151. doi:10.1177/0829573509356896

[2] Helding, L. (2011). Innate Talent: Myth or Reality?. Journal Of Singing, 67(4), 451.

[3] Mislevy, R. J. (2010). Some implications of expertise research for educational assessment. Research Papers In Education, 25(3), 253-270. doi:10.1080/02671522.2010.498142

[4] Kaufman, S. B., & Duckworth, A. L. (2017). World‐class expertise: A developmental model. Wires Cognitive Science, 8(1-2), 1-7.

[5] Ericsson, K. A., Prietula, M. J., & Cokely, E. T. (2007). The Making of an Expert. (cover story). Harvard Business Review, 85(7/8), 114.

[6] Howard, R. W. (2007). Learning curves in highly skilled chess players: A test of the generality of the power law of practice. Acta Psychologica, 15116-23.

[7] Train your brain: Practicing a new and challenging activity is a good bet for building and maintaining cognitive skills. (2018). Harvard Men’s Health Watch, 22(8), 3.

[8] Williams, A. M., Ford, P. R., Eccles, D. W., & Ward, P. (2011). Perceptual-cognitive expertise in sport and its acquisition: Implications for applied cognitive psychology. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25(3), 432-442. doi:10.1002/acp.1710

[9] Eccles, D. W., & Feltovich, P. J. (2008). Implications of domain-general “psychological support skills” for transfer of skill and acquisition of expertise. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 21(1), 43-60. doi:10.1002/piq.20014

[10] Kell, H. J., & Lubinski, D. (2013). Spatial ability: A neglected talent in educational and occupational settings. Roeper Review: A Journal On Gifted Education, 35(4), 219-230. doi:10.1080/02783193.2013.829896

[11] Mehmet Emin, T., Eyüp, Ç., & Murat, İ. (2015). Career and Talent Development Self-Efficacy Scale: Adaptation and Validation in the Turkish Population. International Journal Of Psychology And Educational Studies , Vol 2, Iss 1, Pp 1-8 (2015), (1), 1. doi:10.17220/ijpes.2015.01.001

[12] Lane, F. C., & Schutts, J. W. (2014). Predicting the Presence of Purpose through the Self-Efficacy Beliefs of One’s Talents. Journal Of College And Character, 15(1), 15-24.

[13] Rascle, O., Le Foll, D., Charrier, M., Higgins, N. C., Rees, T., & Coffee, P. (2015). Durability and generalization of attribution-based feedback following failure: Effects on expectations and behavioral persistence. Psychology Of Sport & Exercise, 1868-74. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2015.01.003

[14] Kim, H. S., & Park, I. (2017). Influence of Proactive Personality on Career Self-Efficacy. Journal Of Employment Counseling, 54(4), 168-182. doi:10.1002/joec.12065

[15] Xiaolu, Z., & Ling, T. (2017). Study on learning motivation for innovative talents of local normal universities. Journal Of Interdisciplinary Mathematics, 20(6/7), 1401-1405. doi:10.1080/09720502.2017.1382145

[16] Mullet, D. R., Kettler, T., & Sabatini, A. (2018). Gifted Students’ Conceptions of Their High School STEM Education. Journal For The Education Of The Gifted, 41(1), 60-92.

[17] Siegle, D., McCoach, D. B., & Roberts, A. (2017). Why I Believe I Achieve Determines Whether I Achieve. High Ability Studies, 28(1), 59-72.

[18] Sloboda, J. A. (2000). Individual differences in music performance. Trends In Cognitive Sciences, 4(10), 397-403. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01531-X

[19] Datu, J. D., Yuen, M., & Chen, G. (2017). Development and validation of the Triarchic Model of Grit Scale (TMGS): Evidence from Filipino undergraduate students. Personality And Individual Differences, 114198-205.

[20] Barab, S. A., & Plucker, J. A. (2002). Smart people or smart contexts? Cognition, ability, and talent development in an age of situated approaches to knowing and learning. Educational Psychologist, 37(3), 165-182. doi:10.1207/S15326985EP3703_3

About mathias sager

Thinking and writing for happiness, painting colorfully, and enabling personal growth for all. Fostering co-operative and humanitarian principles, economic and social equality, as well as environmental sustainability. Using broad international experience and progressive, egalitarian and global outlook to promote care for the next generation.
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4 Responses to Developing Human Capital: Success and Failure in Learning

  1. I like the idea of referring to people that’s human assets rather than human resources it seems to add more value to the individual

    • mathias sager says:

      Thank you, Lloyd. I agree, people focus could often still be improved. What would that mean for photography (business)?

  2. Von Smith says:

    This sounds like coaching to me. Coaches support people gaining or refining skills through guided practice and feedback; they must bolster self-confidence to get results.

    • mathias sager says:

      You’re right! Looking at how to improve talent management, the strengthening of coaching practices is indeed a topic, for the reasons you name. Thanks a lot for this addition!

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