Big learning in small doses

26 Jun

I am an advocate of taking on big learning projects. While I enjoy Sudoku puzzles, they may not be challenging enough to have a large effect on our cognitive function. Big learning, that is trying to learn a  challenging new skill or master some body of information, is our best bet for long term memory improvement. Examples of big learning would include studying a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument, or, finally, mastering calculus.

These things are hard, but I believe they are in the reach of  most adults. People often respond to this advice by saying that they don’t have the time or that the goal is so distant that it is not even worth trying.

My approach is that big learning tasks can be taken in small doses. My inspiration is a book,  Small Change: It’s the Little Things in Life That Make a Big Difference, by Susan and Larry Terkel. [Full disclosure, Susan and Larry are friends and my wife and I were married by Larry.  How many people can claim to be married by their yoga teacher?]

The message of Small Change is that we can make our lives better by small incremental changes in our daily behavior. I have come to see this as one of the most powerful ideas in my life. Imagine you want to learn a foreign language. This seems so difficult to most of us as to be beyond possibility, but imagine you dedicated just 15 minutes a day to listening to a Pimsleur language program. That would mean an hour of language study every four days. That would be over 90 hours of language study every year. Would this alone make you fluent in your target language? Probably not, but I guarantee you would know and remember a lot more than if you had done nothing.

My suggestions: 1) take up a big learning project, 2) break it down into small daily does, and 3) begin!

5 Responses to “Big learning in small doses”


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