Wednesday, 8 August 2012
What is "Slow Learning"?
This week, I've been thinking about "Accelerated Learning". For anyone who hasn't come across AL, it's a very broad term which encompasses a wide range of diverse techniques, methodologies and approaches to teaching and to learning. AL basically uses the latest brain research to help you learn faster and remember more.
My initial reaction when I first heard about AL many years ago was "great!" - After all, who wouldn't want to learn faster, and to remember more?
If you read my blog post in March this year, entitled: "Would you like fries with that?" you'll be forgiven for thinking that I'm a food obsessed trainer! Actually, I am partial to good wholesome cooking, but I also happen to see a lot of analogies between food and learning... particularly between Fast Food and Accelerated Learning, and "Slow Food" and "Slow Learning".
You may have heard of "Slow Food" (The international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986.) Slow Food UK explains:
"In the fast modern junk food environment, Slow Food is the voice of calm reason and quality. We work to promote the greater enjoyment of food through a better understanding of its taste, quality and production."
So what is "Slow Learning"? It's actually a term I've started using to describe the type of learning that is not intended or designed to be a quick fix, nor a speedy short cut to developing skills. It's a concept that embraces the value and benefits of taking time to develop and hone skills, to learn through experience, and to build an expertise which only time, reflection and guided learning can bring...
I should perhaps point out here, (as I did in my previous "...fries with that?" blog post) that I don't feel there's anything wrong with Accelerated Learning - in fact there are a lot of very useful AL techniques that I regularly use in my training - to help make the experience memorable and the learning easier to digest. My interest in the concept of "Slow Learning" is not about discrediting an approach which so clearly has it's place, but it is about suggesting that there's another way, which perhaps we have lost sight of.
There can't be a person in the UK who hasn't been watching (or at least keeping up with) the Olympics.... If you were to ask any of the medal winners what's the secret of their success, they're unlikely to say that they simply attended an intensive 1 or 2 day training session and rocked up at the Olympic Park! The Olympians, whether medal winners or competitors are a fantastic example of dedication, hard work, positive mental attitude and tenacity: all qualities which I believe are central to the concept of "Slow Learning".
I do worry that if we continue to promote the idea of speeding up learning by shortening the process, we will end up with the same kind of legacy that we are experiencing from the "Fast Food" movement. On the surface, not wasting your day with picking, plucking, preparing and cooking your food sounds brilliant. And even better, being able to grab what you need whilst on the go, and extremely cheaply seems too good an opportunity to miss! However, we've now discovered that for all the advantages, there are just as many disadvantages. Most significantly, the addictive nature of food that lacks nutritional value, and the generations of people who have become de-skilled, and disinterested in real food and nutrition.
In a similar way, it seems to me that we have developed a "how hard can it be?" culture, with people becoming so called "experts" in a couple of days, because they are intelligent enough to be able to absorb the key concepts from a book or from a day's training... More often these days, I meet groups of corporate trainees who come along to training with an expectation of simply being given quick answers. They have little appetite for understanding the underpinning concepts, or mastering the skills which will help them to solve a myriad of similar problems. They have short attention spans, and seem unwilling to accept that tried and tested techniques may take time to learn and to perfect.
So are we playing into the perceived need for speeding everything up, learning more for less, and in less time? Or are we simply adapting to the culture of our time?
Personally, I still see the intrinsic value of taking time to complete the "prepare, act, review and forward-plan" cycle. Which is why I promote the idea of "Slow Learning" as a healthy, beneficial alternative to quick fix training.
I'd love to hear your views!