Doubts about Slow learning

I thought I would enjoy this Week 13 in ChangeMooc – presented by Clark Quinn on ‘slow learning’, but instead I find myself a bit at odds with some of the ideas that have been discussed.

I think the main problem is the terminology, i.e. ‘slow learning’. I just don’t think it describes the ideas presented very well.

I understand the basic ideas behind the ‘Slow movement’ –  (Stop the world, I want to get off), and I particularly understand ‘slow blogging’ – as I have been a very slow (non-existent!) blogger over the past couple of weeks (apologies to brainysmurf and Jeffrey for not responding to your comments 🙂 ) – and I have written about this in the past

…. But….

I’m afraid I do not think the term ‘slow learning’ works as well. It brings up notions of being a ‘slow learner’, which has negative connotations. In addition, surely, particularly in this day and age, we want people to be fast learners – and by that I mean ‘more efficient’ learners. I honestly can’t see anything slowing down- so we need to be able to keep up. We need to be effective, efficient, efficacious and ethical learners.

The Adventures of Slow Learning Blog –  provides an answer to the question “What is Slow Learning?” – but I cannot see anything in the answer that relates to ‘slow’. I think what is written there is more a description of good teaching, or a possibly ideal learning environment, rather than a description of the learning process.

Clark Quinn has described slow learning as follows:

So I’m hereby initiating the Slow Learning movement. It’s a move where we care about our learners as learners, helping them with their suite of learning and problem-solving skills as well as their job-related skills. There’s an ROI here, as Jay Cross and I have argued for …….. It’s a move where we care about learners as individuals, not just helping them be better, but wiser as well. It’s about using technology to use drip-irrigation over time as well as the firehose for the moment.

There’s not much to disagree with here and I can see that drip irrigation would help learners to pace their learning – rather than the firehose approach – but thinking about it like this suggests that learning is something that you can do to people – which clearly we cannot.

There are a number of points that Clark Quinn makes which would be difficult to argue with, e.g.

Learners need a Sage at the Side – Fair enough – but isn’t it also a reciprocal process between novice and expert?

Learning should be Layered –  Again this is fair enough – but isn’t it more complex and messy than this – cyclical, random, emergent, spiral etc. etc?

Learning is more effective in small bites than big events – This reflects the ‘messiness’ of learning, but occasionally ‘the flood’ can have a dramatic effect on learning, positive or negative. Isn’t it all a question of balance, between depth and breadth, slow and fast, tidy and messy, linear and random and so on?

Clark Quinn believes that we should be designing for an uncertain world – He writes:

My problem with the formal models of instructional design (e.g. ADDIE for process), is that most are based upon a flawed premise.  The premise is that the world is predictable and understandable, so that we can capture the ‘right’ behavior and train it.  Which, I think, is a naive assumption, at least in this day and age.

I agree – but perhaps we shouldn’t even be thinking in terms of instructional design, but more in terms of thinking about learning spaces and environments in which learning can emerge, which feels less controlling to me.

So I’m still not sure where I stand with all this – but I have enjoyed thinking about it – and also found Paul Prinsloo’s blog post helpful in pulling the ideas together –  not to mention the posts that Clark Quinn has made himself this week and his two live webinars – Thank you 🙂

See also…..

…. for further writing by Clark.

15 thoughts on “Doubts about Slow learning

  1. fred6368 December 10, 2011 / 5:53 pm

    Good for you Jenny, Slow Learning, yet another useless neologism. If what Clark Quinn is saying is that Instructional Design doesn’t work well wow; wake up and smell the Brasilian coffee (it’s called Edu-Comm)! You’d have to be an American educator in the first place to think that Instructional Design has any value. ID is how people who haven’t reflected on learning processes and, like most American academics, are primarily competitive, have decided to use learning technology. It can deliver existing curricula faster. Sounds rubbish to me.
    Mind you, as Paul Simon said to his fellow countrymen “slow down you move too fast”

  2. jaapsoft2 December 11, 2011 / 6:53 am

    Jenny, Thanks for these exhilarating questions. In my view ‘slow learning’ is more about asking questions and not about giving automatic fast answers and facts, so we are slow learning now.
    But we are in a world of answering machines and fact finding machines, with people who do not know how to ask questions. How are we going to teach and approve questions more than finding facts? How do we foster questions? I feel this is very difficult for me, giving answers is so easy for me.
    Thanks for the blogpost

  3. jennymackness December 11, 2011 / 7:53 am

    Hi Fred – thanks for you visit and your ‘mini-rant’ :-). I have to say that I don’t really have any ‘strong’ objections to ‘slow learning’ or ID (and certainly not to American educators :-)) – its more that I just don’t get it. And it’s not that I don’t get the ideas within ‘slow’ learning, many of which seem to be very sound teaching and learning principles – but – in my head – I can’t make the connection between them and ‘slow’ learning. ‘Slow’ learning conjures up a completely different set of thoughts for me, mostly associated with learning difficulties – rather than a solution for them.

  4. jennymackness December 11, 2011 / 8:01 am

    Hi Jaap – thanks for your comment. ‘Slow learning is more about asking questions’ – I like that. The good thing about having this view is that ‘asking questions’ is a skill which can be learned – as is the associated skill of ‘listening’. Stephen’s ideas that to teach is ‘to model and demonstrate’ and to learn is ‘to practice and reflect’ come to mind here – when thinking about how we might improve our skills of questioning.

  5. Jeffrey Keefer December 11, 2011 / 7:45 pm

    Jenny, nice reflection on this. In some ways, I wonder if this is somehow related to doing things at one’s own pace? Wonderful and ideal in itself to encourage one’s own navigating through one’s own reality, but for those of us charged with learning functions within organizations, I have no idea how to implement it or what it may look like in practice. Perhaps we all need to hire Clark to come to work with our organizations?

    Come to think of this, I also wonder if this is why Clark has not really answered any of the comments in the past week on his blog about this; I left a few (still unanswered) comments, so perhaps slow learning involves processing ideas or such in one’s own way and on one’s own schedule? Once again, very learner centered, though not especially helpful when that then affects another learner’s processing or needs.

    Hmm, do I sense issues between slow learning and actor-network theory (or even the implications for collectivism or constructionism)?!


  6. jennymackness December 12, 2011 / 7:22 am

    Hi Jeffrey – If it is about ‘doing thing at your own pace’ – then I can understand that, as it relates to ‘slow’. That is certainly what ‘slow’ blogging is about – and if it involves ‘processing ideas or such in one’s own way and on one’s own schedule’, then that fits with connectivism.

    I have noticed that others in changemooc, e.g. Cris Crissman –, Irene Gould – and Paul Prinsloo who I mentioned in my post- haven’t had the problems I’ve had with this term. I just don’t find the term ‘slow learning’ resonates with me – a bit like rhizomatic learning 🙂

  7. Irene Gould December 12, 2011 / 5:44 pm

    Hi Jenny, slow learning, it’s just a name……call it anything you want, but for me the most important aspect is that I learn when I am ready for it, at the right time in my life, at the right place……I see these terms popping up and I know I have done it for a while, I just had no idea what it was called 🙂

  8. jennymackness December 13, 2011 / 5:11 pm

    Hi Irene – thanks for your comment. I suppose the name must be important to me, otherwise it wouldn’t have troubled me the way it did 🙂 It’s been interesting to read the different reactions to ‘slow learning’ – diversity in action 🙂

  9. Scott Johnson December 18, 2011 / 7:54 am

    Hi Jenny,

    With you on the connotations of the name. Looked up “slow” in the IKEA (pros at the naming game) catalogue and came up with VYSSA SLÖA as the closest match which translates to “Lulled Slack” (a mattress). So it appears that the slow name is a problem on a global scale.

    Not sure if I can support Irene’s concept of learning only when I’m ready for it. If something captures even a small amount of my attention it may trigger a burst of thought that may be unrelated but seems significant. Can we define this as learning when it isn’t purposeful? When we are ambushed by a sudden falling in place that forms an understanding? Learning but too unpredictable for use?

    Sometimes we can’t wait on the convenience of someone being ready, we have to push them.

  10. jennymackness December 19, 2011 / 6:20 pm

    Hi Scott – looking up ‘slow’ in the IKEA catalogue must be one of the best examples of ‘thinking outside the box’, lateral thinking and so on, that I have come across in a while 🙂

    I love the notion that learning can ‘ambush’ you – but I’m not sure what you mean by ‘too unpredictable for use’. If you venture back here at any time – could you expand on this a bit. I’m intrigued 🙂

  11. brainysmurf January 3, 2012 / 6:02 pm

    Thanks for this reflection, it’s helping me to warm up my brain again after being away from the #change11 mooc for a few weeks. What I took out of Clark’s slow theme (and what I *think* I understand about other slow movements) is the idea of making slowness acceptable again. Across many environments (work, school, home, play), it seems that fast=best and slow is a synonym for weaker, lesser than, behind. I like the idea of pumping the brakes and saying “hold on, I choose to make some time for digesting, synthesizing, processing and reflecting…and it’s for the better!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s