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The pace of learning part 2


Teaching methods have been discussed for years and years.
Often systems will change to incorporate minor adjustments in curricula or when new fashions for teaching appear.
Very few people ever seem to be satisfied with teaching practices that are reviewed at regular intervals.

Many aspects of teaching have been examined that may improve motivation for learning.
In schools, there has always been debate concerning class sizes, the breadth (or lack of) in a subject, teacher quality, exam testing levels etc.
Traditionally, a teacher will:

  • Impart knowledge on a topic
  • Carry out some examples
  • Seek questions
  • Set homework
  • Mark test papers

This method (or a variation thereof) has evolved over years.
From this approach whether in a classroom setting or an organisational setting people will learn but perhaps not as much as you would like and not at a fast enough rate.

One of the problems is a lack of time (see The Complete Time Management package) to actually work through examples.
A lack of repetition encourages a loss of retention of knowledge which may have an escalation effect elsewhere.

To address this problem some institutes have responded with more practice.
An example of this is the Morningside Academy, based in the USA.
Here, the emphasis is on practice with no homework.

This institute is dedicated to finding new methods for improving achievement which have associated evidence to back them up.
Their philosophy is to continually user-test new methods in experimentation to continually improve student learning.

The more opportunities there are to practice, the more opportunities there are for positive reinforcement and this in turn will increase the rate of learning. Motivation to learn rises.


Comes from increased practice

This method of gaining more practice allows a person to become much more adept at a particular task.
Once they reach a particular level of competence they will be said to be ‘fluent’.
Many years ago teaching by repetition or ‘rote’ learning became frowned upon.
This was mainly because students failed to enjoy the experience owing to negative reinforcement often used to get the job done.

When a person is fluent at a particular skill they reach a point of not requiring to think about the activity.
It comes naturally; it becomes an automatic process.

Combining fluent skills raises performance

When this happens it becomes easier for an individual to combine fluent skills to achieve higher performance levels.
A person learning a fourth language will almost certainly learn this faster than the first.
A sportsman will be able to combine fluent basic skills to achieve improved acts of control and performance.
People intrinsically realise this.

Hence, repetition is good.
It helps to attain fluency in a particular skill.
It has been shown that perhaps 300 repetitions of a behaviour are required before fluency is attained to carry out the behaviour automatically.
Attention to these skills becomes less and they can be performed faster allowing focus on other areas.

Expert or genius

It was Thomas Edison who said ‘genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’.
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University considered that anyone could achieve the status of expert or genius given a programme of intense training. As you can imagine this has been debated widely but the idea of improvement from repetition has been well established.

He considered that it would take 10 years of training to reach expert status with 10,000 hours of focused training or 20 hours per week.
Whilst this suggests that the limits to learning are based solely on teaching practice there are other views that suggest that if the individual does not have a passion for learning then success is less likely.

Computers may help

Training using computer technology with the fluency technique of repetition can improve the rate of learning and motivation.
Many would consider that on-the-job training is the best way to learn by getting your hands dirty.
However, computer training has the advantage of being able to give a higher rate of positive reinforcement which accelerates learning and it is often easier to carry out repetition which in turn will lead to improved skill retention.