There are two ways to eat a cake:
You can eat it in small pieces.
Or you can gobble the whole thing down.
Most of us would like to gobble, whether it comes to cake or learning.
But like cake, learning needs to be tackled in small portions. Small portions not only help you learn, but help you learn a lot faster. Here are three core reasons why:
1. The sleep factor
2. The tiredness factor
3. The mistake factor
1. The Sleep Factor
When you first learn something, the brain tries to make sense of it. After that, the brain goes about doing whatever it’s supposed to do.
Then, you go to bed. You might get just 6 hours of sleep, but as you sleep, your brain is processing parts of your day. And if you’ve learned a new skill, there’s a good chance your brain is processing your new skill.
My niece Marsha is just 8 (at the time of writing this). She comes across to my office to learn to implement a concept called Bal-Vis-X. It’s a combination of skills that makes students sharper and smarter than ever before. But here’s what happens during our exercise.
At first, Marsha struggles with a new exercise (there are over 300 exercises in the entire program). We don’t force the issue. She just goes home and goes to sleep.
Then she comes back for the next session. Between those two sessions, nothing has changed. The only difference is the sleep factor.
Yet, almost immediately you can see the difference. Marsha finds it easier to do some or all of the exercise with which she was struggling earlier.
The same principle applies to your learning.
You can learn just about anything. And then it’s time to sleep. The very next day there will be a difference, whether you are able to discern it or not.
Over weeks and months you’ll be able to see a chunky difference. Sleep, believe it or not, plays a massive role. So yes, turning off that stupid TV (yes, stupid) will make you a lot smarter.
But then, can’t bulk learning make you smarter? Surely the brain can absorb a lot more information at one go?
Yes it can, but there’s a problem called tiredness that steps right in.
2. The Tiredness Factor
If you’re flirting with a new skill, the brain is under tremendous pressure.
It’s trying to absorb what’s being written, work out the context and—because it’s a skill—apply it to your job or your life. Think about the amount of glucose that sucks up from your body.
Now multiply that learning over 3 hours, or a day, and what you’ll find are drop outs.
It would seem that you’ve been reading or hearing carefully. Yet, unless you have phenomenal ability, there’s a chance you lost little chunks of learning after the first ten minutes of instruction. The longer you keep on at it, the bigger chunks you start losing.
Admittedly, this depends on your level of skill. Let’s say you already know a lot about Photoshop, and you’re sitting in a Photoshop seminar. Your brain is not too strained. But the moment some new features come up, your brain has to do a fair bit of work. The more facts you have to remember, the more tired it gets and dropouts are inevitable.
It’s only when you see the work of others, working on the same exercise, that you realize how many subtleties you’ve missed.
When you learn daily, you get to re-examine what you’ve learned—and what you’ve missed. And this helps you minimize mistakes.
3. The Mistake Factor
If you do a little something every day, you will make a few new mistakes every day.
These daily mistakes will be highlighted. So you get to learn—and more importantly, revise what you know. And what you don’t know.
And you will try to fix these mistakes before you carry on learning. So you will learn – effectively.
This is much more evident in a group. Just 5-7 people might make as many as 5-15 mistakes in a single day. This is because everyone interprets information differently, and executes differently. Over a week, 35 mistakes are just 5 mistakes a day.
Each mistake gets its own spotlight and you get the chance to eliminate those mistakes systematically.
If you bulk your learning, the mistakes are all a blur.
Bulk learning is clearly ineffective when compared with daily learning.
Yet most of us believe in bulk learning.
And this is because we’re in a hurry.
The best way to learn something is to slow things down considerably.
It takes most people about 2-3 years to become extremely proficient at a skill like writing or drawing. But with the right teacher and the right system, this can be shortened to just 6-8 months.
That’s because the pace slows down considerably. You detect and fix more errors. And what is skill, but the systematic reduction of errors?
You’ve done the gobble-gobble learning and you know the results.
Now try the daily learning. Better still, try it in a group.
And be prepared to be amazed.
Do share your experiences with learning in the comments below!