Practice, Measure, Play and Repeat

Practice

I have always loved learning.  There have been many things in my life that I’ve gone full in when I am passionate about them and if you know me you probably saw that with one of the latest passions: guitar.  When I decided that it was something I was going to learn I spent countless hours practicing. I am still practicing guitar a fair amount, although in the tune of 10-20 minutes a day instead of an hour.  

I also had a similar experience with yoga and meditation and now language.  At this point, I am trying to learn a couple of languages, French and, inspired by my son, Japanese.  I am getting “pretty good” at French, and am able to ace most of the lessons in Duolingo. I quoted “pretty good” back there because I am in Gaspe, Quebec at the moment and am realizing that conversational language is a big leap from Duolingo.  For anyone that has ever taken a language though this isn’t a surprise. If I focus on the positive though, even though I get lost in the speed of everyday conversation I can still pick out more words than I was able to before. I have even put a couple of sentences together, yay!

Measure

One of the advantages of learning through an app is there are so many statistics that are recorded, for free.  The other advantage is it reduces a lot of inaccuracies produced from self-assessment. For example, when practicing guitar it was hugely important for me to know how much I was practicing.  This was because I had initially misjudged this value. I would guestimate the time and initially, I had thought that I was practicing about 2-3h a night. When I started putting a timer to that I saw that with all of the pauses and stops to find the next music to practice it wasn’t even close to that time.  When I started tracking the time though I found that I actually started improving quicker as I was more focused. Unfortunately, the other side effect was that I realized I was really practicing less than 2-3h a night. Having more accurate timing though made more sense out of the progress I was making and ultimately gave me a better view of work compared to progress.

Having these measures built-in is valuable and keeps people on track.  As I mentioned my son is learning a language. I’ve reached out to his mother to help encourage this as we live in a split household and, unfortunately, I can’t be with him all the time.  The stats have been very helpful in identifying how effective that encouragement has been:

Mason's Progress in Duolingo

When he was learning to read we tracked this via a spreadsheet that required a lot of work and also had the inaccuracies of having missed records, etc.  

Play

The other thing that the graph above helps identify, if you know what to look for, is that there needs to be intrinsic value for the task.  Most times this is most easily done through some sort of play, but there are other ways to build this in.

For our language, we’ve also started watching Netflix with French subtitles on.  This helps solidify what we are learning and where we need to practice more.  It’s become so natural for us that on the plane ride out my son shared the movie he was watching (yes, probably too much screen time for that plane ride…) with French subtitles on.  We are so fortunate to have this type of technology at our fingertips and a lot of times I think we take it for granted and miss the huge learning potential available.

When I was teaching my son to read we would periodically stop along the trail and spend some time reading in the sun, enjoying the break from the trip, the outdoor air and the company.  We also worked reading time into meals when we were eating in a restaurant and sandwiched it between other fun tasks. By building the task into everyday life it helped solidify the task as enjoyable and provided a good foundation for the types of books he is tackling today.

We can see a lot of this play being built into learning applications as well.  In a recent post, I mentioned how Virtual Reality was being used by a company in Victoria to promote learning.  This sort of technology has some immediate benefits in that they have a pairing of fun with technology already…all the kids nowadays think that VR is cool.  The other advantage even without any focus on learning is that it is an enriching experience. The time that game developers spend trying to make an immersive experience helps indirectly with cognition.  Video games are actually good for you…don’t tell my son or he won’t play them anymore.

Repeat

I’m trying to find a key takeaway for all of this rambling and it’s difficult.  Maybe it can be distilled down to set goals with your learning and look for ways to reinforce them, such as play or video games.  Simply put Practice, Measure, Play and Repeat.

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