The Curve

​What’s the connection between Medieval Europe, lobsters, and Aztec culture? For me, these are subjects I enjoyed learning about in excruciating detail for different college classes, only to rapidly forget 90% of the information. Do I consider that a waste, like many students I taught, who question why they need to learn certain subjects? Absolutely not, I enjoy learning, I enjoy being challenged, and I understand “the forgetting curve”. The forgetting curve is the natural, steep degradation of knowledge over time, specifically for subjects you don’t utilize. Consider how amazing it is that our brains can temporarily learn and store vast amounts of detailed information. If that information were maintained and reinforced, it would become more permanent. That’s not what this week’s blog is about. This is about the information we learn passionately and deeply, just to forget.

My child will repeatedly hear that no learning is ever a waste. On the contrary, it is exercising and strengthening the brain. Just as a bodybuilder doesn’t consider their past workouts a waste, efforts of the past equipped them to lift heavier weight in the present. Another thing learners should have in common with bodybuilders is the desire to be well rounded. Developing just one group of muscles, while neglecting the rest of the body, would appear strange. Learning only one subject is equally undesirable.

Learner Study Thyself

​I truly believe that anyone can learn anything! This is what my business Vintage Learners is all about. For over a decade, I’ve lived this motto with hundreds of my adult students; I’ll live it with my child. Conversely, “learned helplessness” is a psychological phenomenon coined by Martin Seligman. In some instances, giving up and underachieving is a learned behavior, reinforced by a combination of enabling and holding low expectations. My child will understand that they are capable of learning anything. I will hold a high standard and expect a healthy level of achievement.

It is true that there are subjects that will be easier to learn, and these differ from learner to learner. There are multiple types of intelligences humans can possess, for this reason a topic may seem more or less intuitive. Howard Gardner, in the 1980’s, first theorized this concept. Dr. Gardner differentiated eight separate intelligences: visual-spatial, linguistic, musical, bodily- kinesthetic, logical-mathematic, natural, interpersonal, and interpersonal. The other side of this concept is that we all have subjects that are challenging to us.

Fear of certain subjects, for example math, is unfortunately common and becomes valid. Fear can create a mental block that perpetuates and builds upon itself. As an adult educator, I’ve had many students with learning phobias. It is possible, within a supportive environment, for a learner to overcome fear and take their power back.

That’s It?!

​I will always be one resource for my child, but I know, just like with my students, sometimes hearing explanations in different ways is required. We live in an incredible period in history where unlimited sources of information awaits us at the click of our fingers. The only thing that can stop us from learning is our own lack of effort. It’s tempting to give up sometimes; again, we all have topics we find difficult to comprehend. Tenacity will eventually pay off. When a concept finally “clicks” in our mind, we often feel like: “that’s it?!”. It was never that difficult to begin with, we just weren’t hearing it explained the way we needed to hear it.

Despite my Master’s in Earth and Space Science, I ended up teaching Chemistry. In college, there were parts of my Chemistry courses that I struggled with, for example stoichiometry. Once I finally figured out what I was reading or hearing, I had to put it in my own terms with examples or metaphors. When I started teaching Chem to adults, I would offer these alternate explanations to my students. Later, I made them into videos for Vintage Learners.

My Vintage Learners Stoichiometry video on YouTube

So Much To Learn

​Watching a baby grow to acquire knowledge of their environment, of language, and begin to hone their motor skills, it’s clear that academic learning is just one fraction of the learning we do over a lifetime. I wonder in what areas my child’s strongest intelligences will lie. There may be times when desire outweighs natural ability and that’s when it’s important, as a parent, to instill the fortitude for practice and patience.

With my background in psychology and love of brain anatomy, I’m sure my child will know how powerful our brain is for creating, innovating, reasoning, and learning. Practice and sleep are the ingredients to learn and improve at any activity. The most well developed part of our brain, the cerebral cortex, is heavily involved in learning, as is the limbic system, but so too is the cerebellum. The cerebellum, sitting at the top of our brain stem, produces motor plans that make certain movements automatic. The finger movements for a violin solo or the execution of a perfect basketball layup are examples. Practice truly does make perfect!

Teaching Appreciation

As an educator, it’s imperative to remember the “forgetting curve” while simultaneously instilling “no learning is a waste”. It’s important to lay a foundation that will be scaffolded upon through continued education. What’s equally important is to not contribute to students’ phobias and aversions by requiring memorization of minutia. Knowing how quickly the vast majority of information will be forgotten should help prioritize our focus on instilling an appreciation of the subject.

I know my adult students won’t necessarily use Chemistry in their day to day nursing responsibilities. They know this too. However, they will appreciate the role Chemistry plays in all aspects of their job from the functioning of our body’s cells to the medications they are administering.

I am excited to nurture the love of learning in my child. Knowledge is an incredibly transforming power and I have the responsibility to build a strong foundation for my most beloved learner. I look forward to hearing about all the incredible information my child learns, to be taught, and continue my own education. Will I be learning the rules of different sports, or renting different instruments from year to year, or filling my home with various art supplies? Hopefully this and more. I’m here for it all, as my child’s audience and number one fan!