Monday, August 31, 2015

Learning Curves

Last week I attended an interesting lecture on urban education.  One speaker in particular caught my attention when he talked about learning curves.  We usually think of the learning curve as a steadily upward rising curve, the more time and effort expended, the greater the sense of mastery.  Like this:

Image result for learning curve

Now, it is not usually a straight line.  Sometimes the initial phase will be steep, followed by a slower increase, some times the initial phase will be shallow, followed by a steep in increase.  But, in this formulation the relationship between effort and mastery is always positive.

What this panelist pointed out was that often the learning curve looks more like this:

There is initial learning, followed by a dip, a period where you feel like you know LESS than when you started. He talked about this as being a period of "unlearning,"  a time when you need to reexamine preconceived notions and ideas, where you need to see new relationships and abandon old ideas.  The world doesn't work the way you thought it did.

The problem is that during this time you will feel vulnerable. You feel lost, unsure, and afraid.  If you aren't in a supportive environment you may never get through that stage. You give up. You feel defeated.  The subject is "too hard."  Good teachers/leaders/mentors can help.

I think this concept applies to so many situations in life, from learning a new language to learning a new way of thinking about yourself.  Being aware of those moments of vulnerability, and supporting others through them, seems to be one of the best ways to be a friend.

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