Learning at the speed of light (almost)

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Our capacity to learn must outpace the speed of progress and innovation.#

As the world is moving fast and innovation is quickly changing the landscape of our communication patterns and of our perception of the world, we must learn at the speed of light so that we can deal with this change.

I had this insight –well, it’s fair to say: I learned it- from Mike Hohnen, which I met at the Art of Hosting in Århus. As an avid learner myself, I found it a quite intriguing and challenging idea.

Last year I set forth for myself some goals, framed in a nice vision and some strategic goals along the way, in a one-year plan. In order to accomplish the vision, one of the strategic goals was to increase by far the speed of my learning. Mostly I was referring to books, articles and online publications that I could read and remember as I had them on my fingertips. Now, even though overall I could see some progress, it has been below my expectations. I did read, but not as much as I wanted, and I remember only a few very outstanding articles and publications. Because of this, it has been natural for me go be thinking about how to learn faster. But there was something that overwhelmed me for I could see that I have been exposed to more information during last year (mostly for taking care of this little child @SustainBTH ) but at the same time having the sensation that I wasn’t equally learning new things at the same speed. Or, even trickier, accommodating that new knowledge into my pre-existing background and assumptions about reality.

I believe that there is some potential in exploring the difference in attention that is required for learning, while dealing with different kinds of media that require a different way of “reading”, or listening and memorizing. For my own use, I came up with this idea that I am already using in practice and will see how it works for me.

It’s the metaphor of a learning pyramid. (And you will excuse my handwriting, right?) My assumption is that I should be aware of the building blocks and master each of the blocks at a lower level before trying to master one at a upper level.

The red blocks are about listening, reading and memorizing that are focused ‘outside’ of us (outward-oriented). The black ones are about listening to the self (inward-oriented). I believe the ones focused on the self are fundamental since without this awareness we would simply be not equipped to give our full attention outside of us.

::Body:: A first basic block would be about connection to the body, and checking in with the pre-conditions that can make our brain alert enough to be open to learn.

::Connection to the self:: I call this second one hosting myself. It is quite common to say that in order to host conversations and listen to others one should listen to himself first. This speaks to me about the idea that in an era of attention deficit disorders the most sever hinder to listening is that we can’t pay our full attention and we are not even aware of our lack of attention. Nice article here.

::Listen others with attention:: Once we are present, we can open our senses and listen. Probably our capacity to understand each other and retain information in verbal communication is a quality we should master before other forms of listening, for it calls for our true attention and our capacity to empathize. A nice exercise I used to do after long conversations with a friend was this. After our conversation, I took my journal and started sketching what was his point of view during the chat. First things that came to my mind were my own opinions, not his. Surprise: it’s easier to remember your stance in a conversation than someone else’s. Definitely needs exercise. Wonderful talk by Daniel Goleman on our (in)capacity to listen.

::Read, memorize, map:: This is a very traditional kind of learning. One thing that might help me in the speed of this learning would be to make the mind maps of books, and get used to make summaries. An interesting technique I was using a while ago is called PQ4R (Preview Question Review Recite Reflect Review)

::Long articles on the web:: I would learn these in the same way as learn materials from books. My main difference is to watch out for the potential of distractions while reading online and at the same time use simple ways to archive, connect articles with each other, organize them in semantic categories (I am using bit.ly bundles and a software to organize my bookmarks now)

::Speeches, videos, podcasts:: Absolutely love them. Because in many of them I find inspiration and some little gems and quotes, I have a hard time in memorizing the overall structure of an informative speech (podcast or video). I wonder if it’s worth to use any techniques to try and retain not only the gems but also the structure of the overall flow and content.

::Twitter, Facebook, fast media:: Since you might know they are a waterfall of information, I try to use them in the most selective way. When reading, I am applying continuous filters to the information flow (lists on twitter, hiding some profiles on Facebook, sorting friends by area of interest, etc). I also set the expectations that on twitter I might find the equivalent on a daily newspaper, using my retweets and favorites as the only bookmarks. If something of great interest and worth storing comes up, I would use some categories to archive it such as bit.ly or bookmarks.

Another reason why this idea of the pyramid makes sense to me is that a very traditional education would teach you analytical skills in reading and memorizing texts, and stop there. And is not nearly enough. Maybe it’s true that solid skills in one block can help you a great deal in reading / learning with a critical eye the next.

I will use this concept of the learning pyramid to stretch myself into new learning adventures.

3 thoughts on “Learning at the speed of light (almost)

    Augusto said:
    February 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Ciao Marco!
    Thank you for sharing this.

    I understand your connections between inward/outward learning and how one might be the structure of another. For your last three points, I see how we can define strategies to be more efficient in learning – I myself bought a Kindle so I can read the articles I want in a easier way and will definitely benefit more from your tip around selective reading on social media.

    Nevertheless, for the three first points you mentioned, learning may be seen in a different way. Different from a “knowing/not-knowing” dichotomy, to learn how to listen with attention and connect to the self, for example, requires more a remembrance of this state of being rather than something you are able to acquire.

    I am not saying it cannot be exercised: in my case, part of my body exercise is aikido – I’m ages away of being fully connected to my body, but I sense that slowly I remember it more and more. So I keep my exercise going and my remembrance. And in that point I go back to your text and agree with you that blocks are interconnected and education disregard them and their influence into others.

    Here’s something interesting to read: http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1996_illich_speed.pdf

    All the best,

    eccemarco responded:
    February 20, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you Augusto!
    I was actually curious to read people’s thoughts on the idea of this hierarchy / pyramid, for I recognize that the first blocks don’t necessarily belong to the learning or the knowing/not-knowing dichotomy but to something else. So are you saying that the first two/three at the base of the pyramid (body, self, listen with empathy) need more remembrance than conscious attention? Is it an attention of a different kind than the rational dominion of the upper blocks?

    PS: Nice read the pdf you linked. Speed can be seen as a recent obsession, which can be easily covered by ideas such as mastery, flow, or others.
    On that note: Superb book on how the view of Time and Space has changes between 1880 and 1918 http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Time-Space-1880-1918-Preface/dp/067402169X

    Take care!

    acuginotti said:
    March 1, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Hi Marco,
    Remembrance is bringing back to attention – my point is that some things you don’t learn by adding them to your library (like a math equation) but rather can revisit the understanding by bringing it back to attention – it is a learning you don’t “have”, that you revisit. The more you go to that place, more likely you will find it – that’s a path to mastery different than to acquire knowledge.
    So yes, I think attention is from a different kind – might even be less concentration and less reading – perhaps requires slower than faster some times. Will check the book 😉

    Oh… stumbled upon this that might be interesting for supporting us on the fast track of this conversation: google “my6sense”


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